Monday, December 31, 2012

resolve . . .

wolfy resolves to be here a little bit more in 2013 because there's so much left to be done!

meanwhile, this morning the sky was filled with pink clouds and it was 26 degrees when i walked out the front door to go help a friend with her broodmares and yearlings.

tonight the air is pregnant with coming rain, the fire quells anxiety, there's a ski dinner of creamed chicken with mushrooms and peas on the menu, and tomorrow there will be black-eyed pea fritters so plentiful that luck will have no choice but to move in.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Loose Horse

we watched the races from Santa Anita last night, and something interesting happened in one of the races: a big grey named By By Inheritance, who was not favored to win, broke from the #1 hole side by side with all the other horses, stumbled in his first few strides and dumped his jockey, from there By By Inheritance ran on riderless and quite efficiently passed the field on the inside rail, he was not panicked, but determined, he took the lead and held the lead for the entire race, "winning" by two lengths (not really because he was disqualified with no rider). It was nerve wracking as hell, because a loose horse is always a danger to the rest of the field and to himself, and it was unusual because loose horses don't usually run the race, they go to the outer rail, or trail behind, but this was quite beautiful to see; a horse running his race unfettered by a rider who would have made completely different decisions in strategy to get to the finish line. By By Inheritance's stride was big and game and easy - perhaps, if he runs again, with a rider, the trainer will learn something from seeing his big grey run unhindered - it was something all horseman can appreciate and learn from.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Take Me With You

i made this little cartoon called Take Me With You this morning for the beautiful white dog that i pass on my walk every day, she longs to leave her little kennel behind the soybean field . . .

Monday, December 3, 2012

Throw

Just so you know, Wolfy does not throw like a girl. Or hit a ball with a bat like a girl. This is a skill that came late in life, much to Wolfy's surprise. She went to her nephew's birthday party a few years back and they had one of those pitching machines and all the dads and the boys were hitting the balls, so my husband jokes, why don't you get up there and hit a ball? And a horrible flashback of Junior High came to me and I hesitated but then I put down the half eaten piece of birthday cake and I sauntered over and asked one of the dads for the bat, he looked at me just like the boys looked at me all those years ago, and well, I told him to get out of the way, and I took a stance that was as stance like as I could take and the pitching machine whirred and spit out a spit ball or a curve ball or something like that and I swung and hit the ball so hard it went over the trees and into the neighbor's yard and the boys all went WOW and the dad's went SHIT and my husband smiled and said, Where in the hell did you learn to hit like that? And then my brother in law says, aw that was beginner's luck, so I said put another ball in the machine and the boys ran over and put two balls in and whir-whir whoop here came another and I blasted it over the bouncy birthday trampoline across the culvert and the creek where my nephew is not allowed to go and then another ball came and I hit that one with a subtle crack and it was gone, gone, gone.

My husband bought me a Derek Jeter ball pitching machine for the yard and I used it all that summer until I got tired of looking for balls in the woods.

And then came the day I went with my friend Sara to the big pond with the dogs and we were throwing tennis balls for the dogs and I threw the balls almost clear across the pond and Sara asked me, Wow, did you ever play softball? And I said God NO, I was pathetic when I was a kid. And she asked me if I wanted to come play on her softball team, just come one night and blow everyone away.

I never went . . . I should have.

Tonight, I cleaned out the fridge and found a bag of oranges that were past their prime  - about 8 or 9 of them. So I took them out on the deck and lobbed them in the woods - about 100 yards away - each throw was better than the last and my arm felt golden.

Friday, November 30, 2012

From The Dept. of The Best Thing I Saw Today

driving up i40, a little crappy rusty Toyota, driver side window wide open, serious-faced but pretty 20-something girl with long brown hair pulled back in a big messy knot driving with her ecstatic white chihuahua standing on her lap with it's sharp bright-eyed face out the window squinting in the exciting wind of the open highway . . .

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lessons

I used to have a bumper sticker that read My Quarter Horse can beat up your First Level Dressage Horse! It's funny how things change, how we change as we get older. You wouldn't have caught me dead in a dressage saddle on a big horse with a European bloodline a few years ago, and now? I'm taking dressage lessons and enjoying every minute of it.

How did I get it into my head to take dressage lessons? Me? The daughter of the polo players, race horse trainers, steeplechase jockeys, and rough and tumble fox hunters, how has it come to this? Well, it wasn't a sudden inspiration from Mrs. Romney, I can tell you that. It goes much deeper than that. The dye was cast when I was a fiercely competitive teenager in a community of wealthy kids with expensive horses. I had two nice ponies who did well at the shows, but I needed and edge, I needed to ride better than anyone, and I didn't go to trainers for that. My grandmother was an elegant horsewoman and she would shout instruction to me in the back yard, but it wasn't enough. I found a book, not sure where, a little paperback book, maybe in the local saddlery? But it caught my eye, it was called Riding Logic, a paperback translated into somewhat broken English from German, by a fellow named Wilhelm Müseler. I still have the book, it's dogeared and stained pages are a testament to my studious adherence to it's every word. I poured over it night after night and then went out and applied it's lessons to my daily schooling with my ponies. And it worked, I was a force to be reckoned with in the show ring - my equitation was flawless, my transitions were perfect and I had an intellectual understanding of how to balance my horses.

The years went by, the book got shuffled from place to place, I no longer read it. I didn't ride for years, I grew up, went to college, got a job, got a husband and longed for a horse again, but didn't know when it would happen again. I finally did get the horse, but I had no intention to show, I just wanted to ride. It's been a good run these past few years, and I'm a strong rider, but I realized a year or so ago that something was lacking - I needed some refinement once again in the art of my riding.

And then I had the great fortune to meet Courtney King-Dye - the Olympic dressage rider befallen by tragedy. A little more than two years ago she was schooling a young horse at home when the horse tripped and rolled over the top of Courtney. She was not wearing a helmet, and she suffered a severe head injury that put her in a coma and changed her life forever. She is one of the gamest people you will ever meet - funny, courageous, and determined to not let a little thing like a traumatic brain injury stop her from doing what she loves most; riding horses. After I met her, I began to read her blog and looked at the photos and videos of her Olympic riding career. I had never seen such fluid happy dressage horses - this was not the dressage I had stuck in my head, the forced intense movement that made one think that the discipline was all too horribly serious, no, instead, there was joy and freedom. Of course, it was bittersweet to see Courtney before the accident, but if you watch her riding these days, that same beautiful joy shines through, she just moves a little slower than she used to.

Months went by, things in my life were not going all as planned, my book couldn't get itself published, stories rejected, my horse began having severe soundness problems and me trying to keep as busy as possible to forget all the doors slamming in my face. And it hit me sometime in the heat of midsummer that I wanted to take dressage lessons - with a real serious dressage teacher on giant horses with unpronounceable European names. The Olympics helped push me over the edge when I heard of the geriatric Japanese dressage rider - he was the oldest Olympian to compete, and what with my new fear of Getting Old, I thought, this is it, I can do this well into my eighties, well, that is if the Nursing Home will let me keep my horse in the court yard.

And so my lessons began, and my teacher is not German, she's midwestern. She's not stearn, she's very funny in fact. She sits in her chair by the gate and speaks to you through a loud speaker, which is great for this half-deaf middle aged rider. My first lesson was on a 26 year old flea bitten quarter horse named Spot - he looked as though he should be pulling a vegetable cart in Sicily when I first laid eyes on him, but he had plenty to teach me, with his big strides and demand for the correct cues. Then there was the slightly ornery paint horse who wiggled every way he could and made me so tired from trying that I just wanted to fall off and cry. And then came the day I finally got to ride a school master - Percy - somewhere in his mid-20s, a Swedish Warmblood, former Grand Prix horse, with legs like telephone poles. This was a big test for me - Percy turned out to be the most powerful horse I had ever ridden. His elevation at the trot and canter were not to be believed and I felt like I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but I sure was having a great time. I touched on my first lessons of the Shoulder In and Haunches In and managed a half-assed Half Passe on Percy. And I was rewarded at the end of my first lesson on Percy with a Piaffe - the highest of collection, a trot in place. My instructor and I laughed about Stephen Colbert's wonderful skit he did over the summer regarding dressage, he finished with a Piaffe, and made TV history for dressage. Two more rides on Percy and I almost mastered a few lateral exercises, and I was awash with thoughts of what the younger Percy must have been - how spectacular a horse he was, because as an old gentleman, he is a workaholic.

And yesterday, I got to ride probably the tallest horse I've ever sat on, a 17.2, 5 year old Hanoverian name Frankie. He steered a bit like a drunken ship - his education in dressage has just begun. It was a thrill to ride this teenager who has grown a bit too fast - his parts are all long and disproportionate. But it felt right up there in the thin atmosphere of the tall horse world. We trotted and I worked with Frankie to be forward and soft, he was a typical baby, needing lots of encouragement and direction. I managed to get a big trot from him and we worked on canter transitions too - getting him to hold a canter was not easy, those big long legs tended to splay on his turns. But it was a great learning experience to be be at the helm of such a big uneducated animal - thank goodness for his kind heart and willing attitude.

The only trouble was getting down again after the lesson - not a pretty sight, I really needed a rope ladder to come back to earth gracefully. But my instructor gave me a gift yesterday, of all the gifts she gives me every week, she told me that she had been planning to put me on young Frankie for a while, she said, "I knew you would do well on him, I just knew it - you are one of those people who just has an innate sense of what to do on a horse because you've been riding since your were practically in the womb. It may not be pretty, we are working on that, but you know what you are doing. And you are so confident! Not many people can get on a young green horse on a cold windy day and do what you did." These were the words I needed, to be reassured that I still had it, that I still could ride, that all those years mean something.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Steam . . .

i was distracted momentarily
in the middle of my dressage lesson
mid-upward transition
from a bold walk
to a bolder trot 
on the wonderful old schoolmaster
with legs like telephone poles
by steam rising in the distance
from the nuclear plant

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sixteen Roosters

Robbie was wearing her bright yellow radio headphones when she came in the barn so she didn't hear me say hi at first. She had been mowing around the pastures and i always admire how fast she goes on the John Deere, and she smiles the whole time. I waved at her and that caught her attention finally and she turned the little black knob and it clicked audibly and she pushed the headphones back off her ears and rested them around her neck, "It's gonna be nice this weekend!" she said and i said i had heard the same. Then she started emptying the barn trash bin and said, "Jerry got a call from a lady we sold chickens to back in the spring, seventeen chickens, and she says sixteen of them are roosters, so he's going over there with Odelle to kill 'em and then we're gonna put them in our freezer." Robbie and Jerry have a Rooster Back Guarantee on all the peeps they sell.

"Wow," i said, "that's alotta roosters."

"Yeah, and she said the one hen was laying four eggs a day."

"That poor hen, living with all those roosters," i imagined she was pestered and annoyed all day, but maybe they were so concerned with battling each other, maybe they just left her alone.

"I told Jerry I wadn't gonna go over there and help, I got too much to do here, and Odelle she's better at that kinda thing. I got a big pot a water boilin' for them, you know? I never plucked and cleaned them, not that many . . . and you know those roosters down in the silo? They gonna kill them today too and I can't be around that, cause I raised them and I can't kill somethin' I raised."

"What a racket those roosters must have made Robbie," i said to her as she took the big trash bags out to the pickup truck.

"Yeah, and she kept them a long time before she called us."

"What's that hen gonna do? Won't she be lonely?" i thought of a traumatized hen among all the killing.

"Lady gave her to someone who's got more hens already."

Robbie stood in the doorway for a moment, "I'm gonna have alotta chicken in the freezer now . . . "

"Yep, maybe it's Rooster Stew for Thanksgiving this year Robbie."

"Heh heh, yeah!" She put those yellow headphones back on and drove off . . .

Friday, November 9, 2012

Schnauzer In The Window

i had a little time to kill before i went to see my shrink, who was happy to see me when i arrived and said, "oh good, you will be one of the few happy people i see this week after Tuesday . . . " and so i stopped at the Cup-A-Joe in Hillsborough and i masterfully parallel parked on King Street, and just as i was getting out of the truck, i glanced at the funny old white house across the street that is uncomfortably close to the sidewalk, and in the big window was, what at first looked like a rabbit, a very old white schnauzer dog, with the biggest, pinkest ears - ears that were not in any way proportionate to his head, and he was standing on his hind legs on his sofa and looking out at me, with his paws draped over the back of the sofa, like a puppet.  i almost took his picture, but it seemed wrong to take his picture, as though i was peeping, so i went and got my 16 oz. hot chocolate with whole milk but no whip cream to go and when i returned to the truck, there he was again, the rabbit, no the schnauzer, and now i regret not taking his picture . . .

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bram Stoker Says . . .

My Friend -- Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you. Sleep well tonight. At three tomorrow the diligence will start for Bukovina; a place on it is kept for you. At the Borgo Pass my carriage will await you and will bring you to me. I trust that your journey from London has been a happy one, and that you will enjoy your stay in my beautiful land. Your friend, Dracula 

4 May -- I found that my landlord had got a letter from the count, directing him to secure the best place on the coach for me; but on making enquiries as to details he seemed somewhat reticent, and pretended that he could not understand my German. This could not be true, because up to then he had understood it perfectly; at least, he answered my questions exactly as if he did. He and his wife, the old lady who had received me, looked at each other in a frightened sort of way. He mumbled out that the money had been sent in a letter, and that was all he knew. When I asked him if he knew Count Dracula, and could tell me anything of his castle, both he and his wife crossed themselves, and saying that they knew nothing at all, simply refused to speak further. It was so near the time of starting that I had no time to ask anyone else, for it was all very mysterious and not by any means comforting.

 Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1897

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Last Great American Whale



They say he didn't have an enemy
his was a greatness to behold
He was the last surviving progeny
the last one on this side of the world

He measured a half mile from tip to tail
silver and black with powerful fins
They say he could split a mountain in two
that's how we got the Grand Canyon

Last great American whale
last great American whale
Last great American whale
last great American whale

Some say they saw him at the Great Lakes
some say they saw him off of Florida
My mother said she saw him in Chinatown
but you can't always trust your mother

Off the Carolinas the sun shines brightly in the day
the lighthouse glows ghostly there at night
The chief of a local tribe had killed a racist mayor's son
and he'd been on death row since 1958

The mayor's kid was a rowdy pig
spit on Indians and lots worse
The old chief buried a hatchet in his head
life compared to death for him seemed worse

The tribal brothers gathered in the lighthouse to sing
and tried to conjure up a storm or rain
The harbor parted, the great whale sprang full up
and caused a hugh tidal wave

The wave crushed the jail and freed the chief
the tribe let out a roar
The whites were drowned, the browns and reds set free
but sadly one thing more

Some local yokel member of the NRA
kept a bazooka in his living room
And thinking he had the chief in his sight
blew the whale's brains out with a lead harpoon

Last great American whale
last great American whale
Last great American whale
last great American whale

Well Americans don't care for much of anything
land and water the least
And animal life is low on the totem pole
with human life not worth more than infected yeast

Americans don't care too much for beauty
they'll shit in a river, dump battery acid in a stream
They'll watch dead rats wash up on the beach
and complain if they can't swim

They say things are done for the majority
don't believe half of what you see and none of what you hear
It's like what my painter friend Donald said to me
"Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they're done"

Faith


The Knowledge of Cows

From today's NY Daily News
A statue is seen among homes devastated by fire
 and the effects of Hurricane Sandy in the Breezy Point section 
of the Queens borough of New York October 30, 2012. 
(photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
 
 
Here in Hillsborough, it's grey, and windy, and cold, oh so cold. The world has gotten very cold, seems like, just over night. I left work this afternoon and drove straight for my horse to find him happy in his green windbreaker on a grassy hill, the wind whipping his mane, his copper colored coat like fire at the end of the day. It was good to see him, and give him his supper and feel somewhat normal even though things are not normal since the hurricane came on land last night, I feel like she changed everything, the game is completely different now. 
 
Driving home, I stopped at the intersection of Hwy. 57 and the cow farm road I cut through on every day, and a handsome Mexican wheeled around me in his diesel pickup pulling a wooden-slatted trailer loaded with two cows and a calf who couldn't have been more than a couple days old. The calf skidded on the floor boards as the trailer went this way and that way and almost went down, but he righted himself on his mother's hip. This made me mad. And then I pulled out onto Hwy. 57 and a white faced caramel mother cow was standing with her back to the winds that were still blowing even though Hurricane Sandy is a good 700 miles away now, and she was licking the face of her calf, also white faced and caramel and spindly and I wished I was her, I wished I had only the knowledge of cows, and nothing else.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

the waiter . . .

the waiter who wore glasses
in the german restaurant
took my plate away
dropped the tray
in the doorway
and apologized
three times
for the lost duck

reading . . .

reading the poems
of Leonard Cohen
in the bath
is almost
as good

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gardening At Night

Benjamin E. Lee sits in the garden at night. It’s July and it’s been over a hundred and six degrees every day for more than a week now. The old air conditioner in his wife’s bedroom broke down yesterday and she asked him to fix it, but it’s too damn hot to mess with something that’s supposed to be in the back of the truck on it’s way to the dump. This chair has been out here for about ten years, and the blue paint is peeling off and the caning in the seat has mostly been scavenged by birds for nests. Benjamin can’t sleep, so here he is, sitting with the tomato plants and the cucumber vines at two o’clock in the morning. The yellow light bulb on the porch is swatting moths and there’s no moon and the haze he remembers of every July night since he was a boy, since his father taught him how to drive a tractor, just is not there tonight . . . it’s too hot for haze and so there are stars all mixed in with the fireflies and they are giving off heat, everything is giving off heat. Benjamin feels the heat in the soil beneath his feet coming up through his tennis shoes. He hears wings beat overhead and a small ruckus in the potted ferns on the porch, “the wrens can’t sleep neither . . . ” he thinks. He sees a light go on across the road, in the upstairs window of the People From New Jersey’s house. They decided to have a garden a couple years back, and so they bought a John Deere that was too big and they dug up half an acre and they worked and they worked and put up fancy little row markers and everything died, not one thing grew and now they got this dug up half-acre that they go out and stare at and scratch their heads and bend over and pick up the dead soil and crumble it in their hands and then they go back in the air conditioning and eat their tomatoes from the store. And some time last spring they brought home those goats and those great big hairy dogs that must eat more than all their children put together, he’s never figured out how many children they got, sometimes it seems like fourteen, sometimes four, and so they put up this crazy wire fence around the half-acre next to the dead vegetable half-acre and the goats are over there breeding away and the big white dogs run back and forth and back and forth and they got so much hair that Benjamin E. Lee thinks that maybe those dogs are going to succumb to the sun by the end of the week, but those people came home with a baby pool strapped to the top of their Bus, Mrs. Lee calls it a Bus, and they put that out there and stuck a hose in it and all afternoon the kids stood there and when it was full they wrestled the dogs and put them in the pool, and they kept yelling “Stay, Stay!” and those damn dogs would jump out and chase the goats again. Benjamin E. Lee watches the light in the upstairs window of The People From New Jersey’s house and figures it’s Mrs. New Jersey who can’t sleep - she’s a nervous type, and he knows this, cause she came to his door about a year ago and asked if she could buy some of the vegetables from his “Gorgeous garden,” and he turned her away saying, “Mrs. Lee cans everything and what we don’t can, well, we eat now, and we give to my sister who lives in town with her son who ain’t right . . . ” and he regretted saying that about his nephew, cause Mrs. New Jersey shifted slightly and her big sunglasses slipped, “Oh I’m sorry . . . ”

“Nothin’ to be sorry about, he just didn’t get enough air when he was a baby . . . ” And Benjamin could hear Mrs. Lee stirring around in the TV room and he knew that she was saying low to herself, “Benjamin E. Lee, you tell that nice lady to go home now . . . ”

Benjamin suddenly wishes he’d brought a flashlight with him, cause he notices that there’s a terrible amount of weeds under the cucumber vines and he’d like to pull them up. But no flashlight unless he goes back in the house, and then he’s sure the batteries are dead in that flashlight cause the last time he tried to use it was when his Boxer Dog was raising hell one night back in May and he went out their to tell her to shut up and to make sure no one was stealing tractor parts from the garage and the damn flashlight didn’t work. And he never bought new batteries, so no flashlight.

A light goes on in his kitchen, Mrs. Lee is up. The side door opens and the moths scatter and the wren that was finally sleeping in the potted ferns flurries away, “Benjamin? Is that you out there in the garden?” Ben?“

”Yeah, it’s me Mrs. Lee . . .“

”Come back to bed before you get bit by a snake.“

”Ain’t no snakes Mrs. Lee, it’s too damn hot.“

Monday, October 15, 2012

Writing in the Mornings . . .

yesterday morning, i heard a lady poet on the radio read a poem about writing in the morning, she spoke of the prayers of a singing wren, of a sleeping cat, of standing in her door, holding her pen in the air - and when the poem was over, she told the interviewer that she fibbed, that she writes most mornings, but not all mornings and then she said the same thing i hear all the Writers say, “everything is fresh in the morning . . . ” and i suppose i know what that means, but when i write in the morning, my mind is blank, there is nothing and words are not easy to come by, and i am slow. so here i am, writing in the morning, about writing in the morning, to prove my point that i am not one of those morning writers.

i made my tea a little while ago and i thought, that’s my ritual, i begin the day with tea and you know what, i end the day with tea. i walked out on the deck with the dogs and looked at the pewter morning sky laced with pink smoke and damn if there wasn’t a pink rainbow in the western sky over the turnip greens that are coming up - it’s supposed to rain later today, and that is going to steer my whole day.

yesterday i took our old bedroom carpet to the dump - we should have gotten rid of that thing years ago - my old dog Jack died on that rug and i should have gotten rid of it the next day, but i didn’t, i guess i was too sad and then the rug stayed and stayed. We cut it up in four big pieces so i could handle it myself at the dump, which really meant i could leave my husband behind so my great hound Boogie could go to the dump, because that’s Boogie’s ritual, he never misses a trip to the dump - going to the dump is his job really, he oversees the recycling and the whole operation and he decides what music i am to play on the radio - if he doesn’t like the music he swipes the dashboard with his humongous paws and damn if he doesn’t turn the station or the whole thing off and then he sticks his head out the window and the wind blows through his mind.

there was a hipster boy, correction, a hippie organic hipster boy - that’s the kind of 20 something boys you see around here - they are educated and living on their own for the first time, out here, and they don’t bathe or shave alot, but they have a twinkle in their eye, a twinkle that says, yep, i’m going to be an organic farmer, and this one had a white ford ranger on it’s last legs and full of a bunch of horrible crap and he smiled when i backed up to the dumpster next to him and i’m pretty sure the smile was cause Boogie takes up an awful lot of space in the cab of my truck and he’s a hound, and nobody can resist a hound and they always break out in a smile when they see him, so the boy smiled and then flung all this crap up and over the sides of his dumpster. And I donned my gloves and started getting everything to it’s proper place - because that is the most important thing about The Dump - you don’t just dump stuff, you carefully distribute it all to the proper vestibules, now that’s a word! And the boy watched me, i suppose in some amazement, as i tore this enormous cardboard box up into pieces so it could fit in the narrow slot of the Corrugated Cardboard Bin cause i didn’t have my pocket knife, and i have to do this sometimes and there is always some man around who looks at me like, Where is your man? Why isn’t your man here with his buck knife to do that, and i wonder if they see that i have some age on me, but i have pretty strong arms . . . so the organic farmer to be boy got in his white truck and drove off and i was down to the carpet and i thought we cut it up in small enough pieces for me to handle, and i wrestle the first piece out of the bed of the truck and carry it over to the bin that is like 8 feet tall and i give the carpet a sort of swing down and heave up and that didn’t work at all and i hit the side of the bin and the damn carpet comes out of my hands and hits the the ground and my ego is completely deflated and the Norwegian man who has worked at the dump for a few years now, he’s darling, always in a nice mood, and pets every dog that rides into the dump, and makes you wonder, what the hell is some old Norwegian man doing working here? But he’s here and he comes over and says, “I help you wid dat” and I say okay, but insist that I help him, and he says, “Okay, i do it, and you do it, ” and i say, “ we do it . . ” and he laughs, and suddenly it’s a little funny, this uncomfortable moment of talking about Doing It with the Norwegian man at the dump and so i say, “That’s a song you know?” and he says, “I know!” And I have this picture of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in the dump.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Sense of Place

so i listened to a radio interview with the author Alexandra Fuller today and was slightly perplexed by the interviewer's insistence, as was Fuller i think, that Americans couldn't possibly relate to Fuller's deep attachment to the land she grew up on in Zimbabwe . . . that somehow Americans don't get the idea of being connected to land and that only people who lived in big places like Africa could be grounded in the earth around them. Fuller spoke of recently returning from a visit with her mum and dad in Africa and described the distant sound of hippos, the birds, the bush babies, the light . . . and i couldn't have related more, i am horribly entrenched in my own spot of earth, all 13 acres of it here in Hillsborough and when i visit my mother's farm in South Carolina, my soul sings with the big water birds of the Wateree and the seemingly unstoppable sky of Kershaw county. A sense of place is not lost on us folks who inhabit less spectacular landscapes, on the contrary, I believe a sense of place is what makes so many of us human.

it's thundering now, and i can hear the rain, and the birds have gone quiet . . . it's not Africa, but it'll do.

The Adventures of Ellie Starr - Part One


i can't tell you how long i been here, but i can tell you it's important to pay attention every day, cause there sure is a whole lot that goes on. i used to live under the dogwood tree near the garage, that was a long time ago, when it was real cold, and the girl would come out in the dark, under the stars, with a flashlight, and she'd give me leftovers from her dinner, "I saved this for you Ellie Starr . . . " and she'd put it in my bowl and sometimes it would be a piece of pizza or some turkey tetrazzini  or macaroni and cheese, but there was one night, one splendid night when she brought me a turkey leg, that night she said, "Happy Thanksgiving Ellie Starr, sleep tight . . . " But one night it was raining, real hard, and she came out, under an umbrella, and just when she was about to hand over half a cheeseburger, the man came to the door, "Valerie! Valerie Starr! Your brother told me you been feedin' Ellie, get back in here, Valerie Starr!" So the girl didn't come anymore, and not long after that, they moved me back near the old Mustang that's up on blocks, the one the boy says he's going to fix up before he goes to college, but all i ever seen him do is show it to that boy with the lazy eye and the acne on his chin - he shakes his head and says, "Man, that car was your dad's? No way your dad was that cool." Only the woman, who is always kind, comes with my portions now, and says things like, "Here's you kibble Ellie Christmas Starr . . . " and you know, most of the time she doesn't stay to watch me eat, she might pick up my water bucket and take it to the garage and fill it up, and bring it back, and say, "Oh Christmas! You're done already?" And then she gets in the big car and drives away and that's when the day really begins . . .

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Cry of a Child

So the news came while i was sowing snap peas in the eleven o'clock sun under the brightest blue sky with those clouds that if you sit still, which i don't, you might find meditative, and my hands were grimy with compost, and i was trying to be neat about the little furrows i was digging, and economical with the number of seeds i was dropping in the ground, and you know, peas are easy because the seeds are enormous, and occasionally i would take a deep breath, and tell myself to be thoughtful as i covered the seeds, because seeds are wishes, really. I stopped to go in the house and have some water and checked my phone and there was a voice mail from an old friend, one whom i've spent the summer helping with her young horses because she was widowed back in November, and so it must have been especially hard for her to call me  to let me know another friend had been widowed and her husband, who i have admired for so long, was killed in his airplane two nights ago - he and a friend were flying to Nevada and they missed a pass through the Rockies and broadsided a mountain, and well, mountains always win don't they? I felt nauseous listening to the message and i remembered the last time i had spoken with him - i'd gone to their house to pick up a copy of a land survey for a piece of property my husband and i had planned to purchase from the flying man and his wife. He invited me to sit at the kitchen table in their sun dappled house, their horses in the green pastures through the windows - we shared some cold wine and conversation. The land deal fell through, but our friendship stayed the same. The shock of his death in his plane came for so many reasons, but most especially because he had cheated death eight years ago in a plane crash. He'd lost a leg but you would hardly know, he continued to ride his horses, fox hunt, fly his plane, and work his tractor - some said he had more lives than normal people and i believe it.

Not thirty minutes after the news i drove to town, and found myself wandering in the market looking for some kind of lunch, some kind of connection with all the living people and a baby screamed and raised hell on the granola/cracker aisle as his mother studied the side of cereal box; now most days, the pierce of the baby's cry would fold me up and put me away, but in that moment, i needed that baby to cry out with all his might, to move the mountain that wouldn't move for my friend, cry baby, cry cry cry.

Things On The Ground . . .

a dead beetle being eaten by ants
a mockingbird feather
a green snake
the haunch of a deer
something that looked like an octopus
the foot of a crow
a screw in a bolt
string
half a baby copperhead
a diet pepsi can
a biscuit wrapper from bojangles

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Out To Sea

Hurricane Fran, September, 1996
Bermuda was threatened by tropical storm Leslie earlier this week - Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel got a free trip to the islands for the occasion, and I thought it fairly amusing as he stood there on Elbow Beach, a gentle breeze caressing his storm jacket - the sense of urgency just wasn't there. And well, even if Leslie didn't blow east of the islands, even if she had crossed the fishhook sea mount, it wouldn't have been a great story. Bermuda knows how to ride out a storm with her buried power lines, her underground water tanks, and all the shutters closed tight. In the two years we lived there, we never got to see a hurricane, but we were always ready. The worst we saw were winter gales and hellish thunderstorms, but never a hurricane. Oddly, I rode out Hurricane Fran just a few months before I moved to Bermuda. My husband was already out on the island, and I was home alone in Durham. There was barely any warning from the authorities, it was before the internet, before the Weather Channel tweeted every cloud, every rain drop, every sun spot - I went to work that day, and I remember exactly what I bought at the grocery store on my way home, a quart of milk and a bag of kitty litter, and not one person in the store with me was stocking up, preparing for disaster. The last thing I remember was Greg Fischel of WRAL-TV saying on the tv with the image of hurricane Fran at his back as she bared down on the coastal plain, "Folks this is going to be a little worse than we thought," and the lights went out, right on cue, and they didn't come back on for almost three weeks.

Even when the lights went out, I didn't panic. I just took the dog and the cats to bed with me, they were my only companions with my husband out on the island. And we tucked in for the night. I awoke two or three hours later to my brave hound lab Jack straddled over me in the bed in the pitch black growling fiercely at the windows. And outside Fran raged, all Category 3 of her - there was a weird light that came from her belly and I sat up and held Jack as he growled and growled, his hackles raised from shoulder to tail. He was determined to keep that storm outside and away from me. I could see the pine trees down in the park near our home twisting and blowing like egg beaters, I could hear things cracking and exploding, and the wind revved like a NASCAR racing mobile right outside my window. But there was no race car, no motorcycle, that was Fran - her sustained winds at sixty miles an hour, and then the nauseating gusts over 100 miles per hour, some said we had 115, that came in two minute waves, I began to count the seconds until the gusts died down, 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, and around 6-Missippi I could hear the giving way of trees and unknown objects. I felt the gusts in my lower gut, my whole body was being crushed with barometric pressure.

I lived in a typical Durham mill house, and it had an attic. About an hour into Fran, the wind not letting up, I began to hear the attic windows at either end of the house slamming open and shut. I was frozen to the bed, mesmerized by the sight out the windows of the bedroom, Jack wouldn't let me move. The cats paced up and down the hallway, occasionally coming in as though we might join them, they made guttural meows, harmonizing with Fran. And then the roof began to moan, like every damn sea faring movie I had ever seen, my roof sounded like a ship straining on the swells of a perfect storm, the house was yawing and popping all around me. Jack sat and stared at the ceiling and began to growl again, I felt my ears popping over and over. Were we going to lose our roof? The attic windows slammed and slammed, my heart could not beat any faster, and more things cracked and more things exploded and I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life, despite my dog, who was trying with all his might to tell the storm to go to another neighborhood. We sat there all night, and I think the eye of Fran came an hour before daylight and sleep would not be had. I picked up the phone to call my husband in Bermuda, but it was dead. The back end of Fran finished us off, and just when I thought I might die of sheer fright, she was gone. And the sun came out and I noticed all the windows were plastered with leaves - Fran had paper mached my house with summer leaves, autumn was not necessary that year. I put Jack's leash on and we ventured out the back door. The large old pin oak in the back yard was still standing, but a poplar had been pulled up and out of the ground and lay along one side of the house. My car was also paper mached like a Cristo with leaves and sticks and debris. Jack and I ventured out to the street and there were all my neighbors, like zombies, with their little children in pajamas, I think we were all in our pajamas, and shock, and we all had the same expression, one of complete awe and surprise. The damage was unbelievable. Trees, now Durham is a city of trees, big trees, and it seemed as though they had been kicked down and around by the gods. One long ranch style house less than a block from me had an enormous loblolly pine entering at one end of the house and exiting at the other end - it had dissected the home along it's center line. The family was miraculously unhurt, and they stood in the yard, in complete mental comas. We had all been blind sided. The city went into chaos over the next couple of weeks, there were massive lines for water and batteries and food. I remember waiting five hours for a small can of propane for my camp stove. The phone service was returned within a day or two and I could talk to my panicked husband who was way out to sea, he was helpless to help me. There were curfews and rationing. I had an elderly neighbor, she was Polish and spoke no English, and every night and every morning her live-in nurse, also Polish, would bring a single pot of something to cook on my camp stove. She had seen war, she knew how to cook in a war, I had only camped, but it was enough to get me through. The nights were the worst, my fear of the dark returned with a terrible vengeance, there weren't enough flashlights to relieve my anxiety.

And then, only four months later I was living in the middle of the ocean, with my sweet husband, and my hurricane sniffing dog and two cats who never wanted to live at sea. And the world began to open up to me - because Expats go through that in the first few months. You are cast out from the safe walls of your home country and you begin to look back and you see your country in a very different light. You read international newspapers and the shipping news and listen to the BBC and your country is suddenly not the only place on earth - you realize how sheltered you were, and it changes you forever.

Sometimes, we watched The Weather Channel and they would show great colorful maps of the eastern seaboard of the US and twirling tropical systems and we would squint and nowhere would we see Bermuda in the ocean, in the place she was supposed to be, just 600 miles due east of Cape Hatteras, and frequently they would console the East Coasters by telling them, "not to worry, this storm will be going out to sea." And we would smile as Jim Cantore or one of his lovely weather girl colleagues would gesture toward Bermuda, yes, we were Out to Sea, thank goodness.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Alice B. Toklas Says . . .

My friend Jarret Liotta, the infamous writer, recently told me he had learned how to "poach, literally" and when I first read this, without glasses, I thought he said "literary" and I was momentarily thrilled by the idea of him poaching literary works of others and then before I ran too far with this notion, I remembered I had only recently told him I was on my way to "boil an egg" and the whole exchange became very mundane, eggs in water, nothing of the stuff of shooting arrows at the Queen's deer up at Balmoral by the light of the Royal Moon, no just eggs, just breakfast. But then I recalled another recent event, my reading for the very first time, The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, and I dug around on my desk, which lay in ruins these days, and I found the wonderful little book and searched for eggs of the poached variety and there, on page 177, I found this and I hope that Jarret might expand upon his new culinary skill and make this delightful concoction for his famille:

Poached Eggs À La Sultane

Bake puff paste in fluted påté shells. When baked and still hot place in each one a poached egg. Cover with a sauce made this way:

For six påté shells, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over low heat. When butter is melted add 1 1/4 tablespoons flour. Turn with a wooden spoon until thoroughly amalgamated, then add slowly 3/4 cup strong hot chicken bouillon. Stir constantly over lowest heat for for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream. Do not allow to boil. Add 1/4 cup pistachio nuts that have had their skins removed by soaking for 3 minutes in hot water. Dry and rub in cloth -- the skins will loosen and finally remain in the cloth. Pound them in a mortar with a drop of water added from time to time to prevent the nuts from exuding oil. When they can be strained through a sieve, add 1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon soft butter to them and mix together. Add this mixture very slowly (called, naturally, pistachio butter) to the chicken bouillon cream sauce. Heat thoroughly but do not boil. Cover the eggs with this and serve at once. As good as it looks.


(from The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, by Alice B. Toklas, 1954)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Portrait of Girl with Shih Tzu

such a plain girl,  sitting in the shade, the market windows reflecting the July afternoon behind you, with a small salad and a vegan cupcake, and at your feet the brightest little dog with her Summer Cut, her coat the color of storm clouds, her eyes dark little jewels - you sit, straight, staring into the middle distance, one freckled arm at your side, the other holds your book open as the taut leash grows tauter, she wants you to Hurry Up, she has no time for bookish hot afternoons.

Friday, July 20, 2012

When You Get Married

I followed the flouncy little girl out of the market and into the late afternoon burning sun and she was half skipping, half ta-da-look-at-me-ing in the crosswalk with her mother, who was carrying cotton grocery bags full of, i don't know, organic things i suppose, and the little girl said, "When you get married, your hair . . ." and then her mother stopped her with her one free hand as a car passed, and said, "WAT?" and the little girl said again, "When you get married, your hair . . ." and it drifted away, whatever it was and her mother said, "Kay, you are a Half-Glass-Full kinda gal, and I'm just a Half-Glass-Empty kinda gal . . . " and they went their way and I went my way and I wanted to know what her hair would be when she got married, I did, I really wanted to know . . .

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Reprieve . . .

Wolfy is not going anywhere just yet . . . for technical and practical publishing reasons, stay tuned!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mood Lizards

we lived in a mint green house in bermuda and the anole lizards hung on the walls of the veranda by their delicate little fingers and took on the same shade and sometimes they matched the sky when storms approached, we liked to call them Mood Lizards . . .  the cats chased them in the house and i frequently found their tails, the result of the cats managing to scare the anoles enough for them to “pop” their tails off, a wonderful defense against predators - give them your tail and get away with your life.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Rainy Season, Part One



The girl moved out last week. He asked her too, a couple of weeks before that, but she said she needed time to find a new place to stay. He slept on the sofa until she was gone. It rained every night until she left, and now, it was almost the end of May, and the days were very humid, the sun was wet at eleven a.m. and when he went out to check his tomato plants, the ones he planted early because the spring had been so warm, he found them to be blightly.  His mother would know what to do, he thought, she always knew how to save the diseased things in the garden, but he didn't want to call her for help. He decided to pinch off the blighted leaves and add some bone meal to the soil, and maybe the plants would prevail, maybe he wouldn't have to dig them up and start over.
The last time he'd visited home his mother called him "Sailor" - this made him decidedly uncomfortable. He walked in the door after driving all the way to the mountains, and it was ten o'clock at night and she'd waited up for him. He had a staircase to finish at the house he was he was helping to restore, and well, the day wore on and he just didn't want to put the sander down until he had things just right - the owner was a real bitch for detail, and really, so was he, and it drove him mad when she beat him to the  punch on criticizing his work. He was 28 years old, a master carpenter by all definitions and nobody criticized his work more than himself or the architects he sometimes worked for - that he could take, because architects were never happy, but the bitch owner didn't deserve to see what he already knew he needed to do, he had the list in his head. So he stayed til 7 or so, and then he drove to the mountains right from there. He had a clean pair of pants in the car, and the girl was taking care of the dog, he thought, so he didn't need to go home.
"Hello Sailor!" she said when he came in the door. She came down the hall and put her arms around him. She felt thin, delicate, as though he could crumple her - when did this happen? She was always so strong, pushing wheelbarrows of field stones the add to her garden walls, "just like home, stone walls built by onion farmers, why do I have to live without stone walls?" His father had brought her down here because Massachussets was too full of hostile family members, he wanted to homestead, and Vermont, hell, Maine wasn't far enough away, and so he put her in the Volkswagon bus and drove her to the woods outside of Asheville. They squatted for a while and she convinced her father to buy them the farm, the roof was caving in on the house, the barn had burned down back in the fifties, but it was a farm, according to the land records and besides, she was pregnant with a baby boy, her father had to do something -- his Protestant manners, and her mother, warranted buying his daughter a farm in Nowhere North Carolina, sight unseen, so that the baby would have a place to call home, the VW bus was just not adequate. She began building the stone walls two days after they moved in, while his father repaired the roof, "Toby, maybe the South would have won the war if they had just built stone walls!" And Toby would call down to her from the roof, "Could you go to town and get me more nails?"
Why did she call him Sailor? "Hey Ma, you didn't have to wait up for me." She let him go and a faint oil of wine and magnolia drifted across his senses. She always smelled of magnolias, when they were just past their prime, when the meaty white flowers fell to pieces - oh how he loved that pierce of lemon, of verbena, to his brain. She took his hand and led him up to the kitchen, "I did have to wait up for you! What else have I got to do around here? I like your navy sweater, and the beard, you look like Ahab about to take the whale. Like your great grandfather on Rhode Island. But alas, you never got tangled up in a sailboat sweetie, and I'm to blame for that. Aren't you starving? I am - I'll make us omelets." She poured him a glass of wine and he pulled the eggs out of the ice box, "Racoon got one of my hens the other night - I'm down to three girls now. I am beginning to wonder if it's worth it." She broke the eggs, "There's some nice cheese in there, some stinky blue cheese Ursula brought me the other day -- she insists that blue cheese makes you live longer. So how's your pretty fat girl Sailor?"

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bermuda's Little Napoleon Complex


From The Guardian (May 3, 2012)
Hong Kong: Chinese missile frigate Yuncheng (571) docks
to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover
from Britain to China.
Photo: Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images

Two significant things happened in British news when we were living on Bermuda: Princess Diana was killed in a horrific car wreck in Paris and Hong Kong was returned to Chinese governance from Britain, humorously making Bermuda the largest remaining British colony in the world. What a step down for England and what a boost in ego for tiny Bermuda.
That summer, fifteen years ago, the world was as nervous as the bride's family before the wedding -- Hong Kong was a gleaming boom town overflowing with modernism. What exactly was China going to do with this island city of millions who were so accustomed to the ways of the Western World? Would China install military on every street corner, shut down financial markets, crush the open society, and start rounding up expats for interrogation? While the people of Hong Kong rejoiced under a brilliant fireworks show over the harbor upon their benevolent UK Governor's departure, the world held it's breath. The reign of the British Empire over the Hong Kong Chinese had not exactly been a picnic of Gin and Tonics and Brotherly Love, but Hong Kong was in a good place finally, the Brits had learned a lesson in hands-off management of their dwindling world holdings, and the press, especially the American press rankled at the idea of Hong Kong's flourishing soul being chained by mainland China. But Hong Kong's citizens had other ideas, and fifteen years on, I believe their plan is taking hold -- the BBC made it clear that the people of Hong Kong saw this as their great opportunity, not only to get out from under British control, but to infect China with freedom. Bravely they rejoiced that night as their UK governor sailed away with their now former queen, she took the governor's hand and welcomed him back onto British soil, her vessel became a smaller and smaller pinpoint of light in the Indian Ocean and now the citizens only had the Chinese government to contend with. Extraordinary really.
So there we were sitting in our little living room watching our little TV as the BBC documented every detail of the hand-over ceremonies and nothing happened - there was no sudden rush of military, the skyscrapers remained alight with electricity, and the financial markets did not faulter. And very unceremoniously Bermuda, population 80,000, became the biggest jewel in the crown.
To hear Bermudians talk, it was as if it's new status would bring Hong Kong style riches to the tiny seamount. The 22 square-mile island would gain international notoriety, the UK would bestow greater and greater favors to islanders. Just close your eyes People of Bermuda and imagine this, elevated six-lane high speed thoroughfares surrounding the our little rock, 100-story emerald glass sky scrapers in downtown Hamilton, throngs of expats, money, UK citizenship for all, and more money! A tunnel under the sea leading to New York City or London no longer seemed like Science Fiction.  The collective fantasy was contagious and fascinating -- Bermuda's new status would lead everyone straight to the bank.
Bermuda is one of the few, if perhaps, the only, British colony that cherishes it's status as a servant to the crown, it has no interest in solidarity. It depends on it's reputation as a very British island to lure tourists, it LIKES being British, it strives to be stuffy. Bermudians love their Queen, they send her a field full of Easter Lillies every year -- they celebrate her birthday pompously and quite circumstantially. High Tea Time is revered in every Bermuda hotel. When Princess Diana died, we, Bermudians and expats alike, stood in long lines to sign the condolence book that would be sent to the Royal Family.  Without their Anglo Saxon chains, without the motherland, Bermuda is just a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, independence would render them without identity.
The weeks went by, Hong Kong enjoyed a status quo, the worst fears of the press were not realized - it became obvious that China knew what they had now, the eyes of the world were upon them, and they weren't going to screw it up. And that summer wore on in Bermuda too, and she soon realized that the phone wouldn't ring, the sky scrapers weren't coming to the dance, she would just remain that honeymoon island with the pink beaches of soft soft sand.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dear Madame

dear madame, yes, you, the professional lawyerly looking madame, wearing the tailored b & w tiger stripe jacket and the tight pencil skirt, with the big brief case slung over your back, and the high-high heels, please, please, don't ever stand in the middle of Churton Street at the intersection of Margaret Lane, near the court house, texting. We all watched you as you stood there, the red light about to turn green and you texted and stood and shook your coiffed head and then took another step, and it was painful to watch, and then your were there on the yellow line and the traffic from Margaret Lane veered around you and then you took another step and i prayed the firehouse wouldn't release it's fire trucks only a few yards away, because i don't think you would have noticed. And just as the light turned green, you took another step and texted some more, and you were barely up on the sidewalk . . . And just when i thought i had seen enough of you, i managed to get behind you in line at the Weaver Street Market and as your groceries are being checked out, you are jabbering away on your bluetooth, and the checker asks you for your member number and you fumble for your wallet - you were completely not present. And I wanted to grab you and tell you to save yourself before it was too late, dear madame, dear lawyerly lady with the tiger print blazer.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Just Another Blond Girl From Connecticut Against N.C. Amendment One

You might not guess it by looking at me, but I was raised in one of those Non-Traditional Families. And it was a really long time ago, before there was such a thing . . . or at least it felt that way to me. I felt like the only kid in the world who didn't live with her mother and her father all under one roof. But I was very young, so what did I know?

My parents divorced when I was almost three. And due to extenuating circumstances, I went to live with my grandparents when I was three. It was 1969.  It was supposed to be temporary. But, lucky for me, and despite the protests of my grandparents' overly concerned friends, I remained in their home until I went to college. My mother lived on the racetrack training racehorses and my father traveled around with a camera bag. It was complicated and wonderful and misunderstood and at times painful, but it all worked out - I'm here to tell the tale.

The first time I realized I was different was when a kid in my first grade class asked me why I was late to school every day? I said, "Cause my grandmother drives me to school before she goes to her job." And the kid pressed further, "Why donchya take the bus?" And I didn't know, but the reason was cause I was going to school out of my district, to a school that was close to my grandmother's job and close to the family that babysat me in the afternoons after school, so all I could answer him was, "I don't know, I live with my grandparents, and they bring me to school." The kid screwed up his face and asked me his last question, "How come you live with your grandparents? Are your mom and dad dead?" I cried and ran away from him.

As time went on I learned how to answer the questions. How to explain my situation. And I met other kids who didn't live in the Nuclear Family. And we realized we were kinda cool and kinda lucky cause we were Different.

I wrote a whole book about it, but tonight I'm using my story to ask you, if you live in North Carolina, to go vote against Amendment One on May 8th. Never mind that it's bad for North Carolina businesses, never mind that it's discriminatory, never mind that it will make our state look ignorant and resistant to the idea that all people have the right to be who they really are -- the thing that is at the heart of it for me is that it forgets that kids need their families, no matter how strange or different they might seem to you -- it's the only family those kids know, and in that family they are loved and cherished and protected. Amendment One will take that away from the kids who live in Non Traditional Families in North Carolina and that's an unbearable thought to me. A family is a family is a family and love is love is love.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Nature Show Dream Number One

I stopped watching Nature Shows twenty years ago. This was a big change in my life because I had watched them since I was a kid - it all began with Disney on Sunday nights, followed by Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I had stacks of National Geographics in my bedroom closet - in fact, many of the closets in my grandparents home were insulated with towers of yellow, going back to the 1940s. My favorite issues were anything with zebras or lions or antelope. And then there were the Wolves. Anything about Wolves stopped me in my tracks.

I discovered Animal Behavior somewhere half way through my college career - I had no idea I could major in it. I thought you got to be Jane Goodall by the grace of God or the Queen or the Pope, you know?  But I was on my English trajectory, no jumping the tracks for me, do you want to be in college for the rest of your life? I did, but the family didn't. So I did what any confused college student could do under the circumstances, I got a minor! Two minors - one in Anthropology (Primatology!) and Psychology (Animal Behavior!) and so I had all these wonderful textbooks to read every night that told me why the animals did what they did. And the Nature Shows became more sophisticated, but at some point, they became Apocalyptic - oh they would start off just fine, here's a troupe of Baboons, here's their social order and then? The Poachers come and take the Alpha Male's teeth to China to be ground up and sold as a remedy for pot bellies or some such ailment.  So I turned off the Nature Shows forever.

Last night I was restless, and when I finally fell asleep, who should visit me? David Attenborough, only in voice though, he narrated. He spoke of the world getting hotter and hotter, of desertification, and then I saw his old hands holding desert flowers, tiny flowers of brilliant red - drought resistant - these would be the only flowers to flourish from now on . . .  I met refugees coming down a street and watched them board a train that would not go.

Thankfully the world is still green this morning . . .

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Have You Ever Been On A Cruise?

So this morning I took the girls in for their pedicure . . . we get to the vet at 9:39 am and it's 40 degrees outside, the last cold morning of spring really, and we check in at the desk and take our seat on the pews, yes our vet got a hold of some old church pews for the waiting room and well, the dogs love them. My girls are nervous, and they jump right up on the pews to sit as close to me as they can, not like my boy hound, he takes everything in stride, but the girls? They have to go in the car together or not at all.

So I'm sitting there, flanked by Pansy on my left and Luna on my right, and this gal walks in the door with her lovely elderly yellow lab and some kinda bouncy elk hound mix, and the first thing I notice is she's dressed entirely wrong for the chilly morning. She's got white capri pants and a billowy shirt and flip flops . . . and a tan, and painted toes, something I aspire to but never have, really brightly painted toes, and then I hear her announce to the ladies behind the counter, "We just got back from a Cruise. Oh, I feel so wonderful, so wonderful. I had a massage every day, do your hear me? Every day!" And then she turned to us, those of us waiting in the pews for our turn - dogs quaking in their coats, wondering if this will be the day that they'll just be left here, abandoned, never to go home, and just how big are those needles going to be? And what will they stick in my ears today? And I'll try not to pee on the scale, but there are so many cats, so many cats! If they would just get rid of the cats, I might be able to get through this whole thing without embarrassing myself.

. . . so she turns to us, and her billowy shirt and her capri pants are understandable now - she came straight from the gang plank to the vets, no time to get back into her civvies, and she zeroes in on me and she says, "Have you ever been on a cruise?"

"No, no I can't say I ever have . . . " as I put my hands on my hounds, thinking about what might happen next.

"Well, I highly recommend Royal Caribbean! They're just the best! I had a massage every day!" She sat down on the pews nearby and her dogs were very polite, they stayed on the floor, unlike my two,  who must have their paws on me as they await their fate, the pedicure and the scales and the cats you know? And so we are now formerly introduced, "This is Polly, short for Polly Wog and  this is Chloe, she's 16, 16! Can you believe it?"

"No, no I can't, she's remarkably youthful looking, " I say, and I was telling the truth.

"I'm sorry to make everyone so jealous, " she says, "I mean aren't you all just sooo jealous of me? I went on a cruise!"

And this is where I couldn't help myself, I just couldn't, "Oh no apologies necessary, I lived on Bermuda for two years, I used to watch all those ships go by, day and night from my house." And the billow in her shirt went a little flat and she cocked her head at me and one of the ladies behind the desk said, "Oh! I cruised to Bermuda once! Did you love living there?" And I said it was fine, just fine, and best in the Off Season and then I wanted to tell her how miserable I thought all those tourists looked when they stumbled off the ships in town, but that wasn't right for the moment, and then Mrs. Capri Pants began to tell me about the years she lived in California, about the beach she lived close to, back when Chloe was a pup and how she married her husband back in 1996 and they went to Alberta, Canada in the Off Season, how cheap the hotel was and there were hardly any people there at all, and she liked it that way, because she didn't go to a place to see people, you know?

I know! And we all went quiet for a moment and the dogs shifted in their seats and finally, a door opened and the vet tech called, "Luna? Pansy? You can come in now . . . "

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

baseball . . .

Colby Rasmus the baseball player spoke to me in a dream, and he said something like this, i’m almost sure of it . . .  my mother named me for her favorite kind of cheese. i like to read philosophy books, Aristotle makes me a better baseball player . . . did you know that the dali lama likes to watch baseball? he does, and do you know why? because it quiets his mind . . .

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Checking on a Horse at Night

where is last night’s moon?
driving with the window down
and the rain coming in
half asleep on highway 70
remembering the funeral procession
of a few days ago
right on this hill
we all pulled over
and the cars drifted by
the windows full of sun and black
a train carrying coal 
was it the old man hit by a car in the rain
last saturday? somewhere
somewhere on this road
he was 66
headlights in my eyes
i watch for the walkers
and one materializes
almost like deer
he's carrying a paper bag
and walking the line

i found him way out in the field
down in the grass
in the hot April sun
his nostrils beating
all the signs that we know
taught to us when we were small
what does a sick horse look like?
like this
like this

you cannot sleep on a sick horse
no one can
lights in the barn at midnight
are never right
the horses blink and stir
the taste of camphor
until i find my horse standing at his door
with none of the signs
a pat and a waking dream of the bones
of the old horses,
now buried near a swimming pool

i play the radio on the drive home
the rain is cooler now with the front
they said would come
something makes me stop the car
just before home
a snapping turtle
old as boulders
mouth agape
he’s come out of the river
i leave him scrambling
at the neighbor’s mailbox
supposing he knows
exactly where he's headed

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

John Cheever Says . . .

17 July, 1947
Thursday

Dear John,
I have my troubles. Mrs. Fitch French, who does my wash, has a middle-aged and crippled cat she wants Susie to have. Susie wants the cat. I don't want Susie to have the cat so on Sunday I bought three rabbits; one for Susie and one each for Irene and Jackie, the cook's children. This cost four dollars. Then I brought the rabbits home. I put them in an old duck pen where I thought they would be comfortable. Irene went around behind the duck pen to take a piss. She sat down on a hornet's nest. The hornets waited until she got to her feet, which is typical of New Hampshire, and then attacked all of us with vigor. We weren't able to get near the duck pen again until after dark. I then moved the rabbits from an old duck pen to an old turkey pen where there were fewer hornets. The next evening when Susie went to the turkey pen to feed her bunny she found that he was dead. She screamed. She cried. She was inconsolable. I buried the rabbit at the head of the garden while the gardener stood beside me and told me I was wasting my time. I should throw the rabbit into the woods for the skunks, he said. He is a communist and is so steeled against bourgeois sentimentality that he hasn't even given his horse a name. I then went to the duck pen to investigate the causes of the bunny's death and found some poison there, left for the rats by "Guts" Winternitz, my father-in-law. This poison was manufactured by the Chemical Warfare Branch of the United States Army to be fed, presumably to Russians. All of the rabbits tasted the poison, but only one of them died. Do you think this is a threat to our national security? Do you think there ought to be a shake-up in chemical warfare? . . . there's a lot of talking about filling the void in Susie's life with Mrs. Fitch French's crippled cat.

As ever,
John


from The Letters of John Cheever edited by Benjamin Cheever (Simon & Schuster, 1988)

Wolfy Cooks Again . . .

I made up this spring salad for dinner last night - you might like it as much as we did:

Cannellini Bean & Potato Salad For Two

Roast a pound of fingerling potatoes at 400 degrees with kosher salt, pepper, olive oil, and fresh thyme til golden brown.

Saute half a head of garlic (smashed & chopped), with 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, add some chopped sweet peppers, when softened add a can of drained cannellini beans, kosher salt, pepper, and more fresh thyme.

Chop small head of romaine lettuce and a bunch of radishes.

In two large bowls, divide the lettuce, then the radishes, then the saute of beans/garlic/peppers, then the potatoes.

Dress with Yogurt Dressing: whisk together 2 cups of Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar (or fresh lemon), a pinch of kosher salt, and pepper.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Roadside Pineapples

The drum solo on the radio started
just when the blackbirds jumped the wires
and that’s when i passed the stand
in the abandoned used car dealership
and the pineapples caught my eye
lined up on the table
for sale
in the grey winter afternoon
promising their sweet fat yellow meat
but it was too cold to stop
and i changed the station
cause drum solos kinda
make me panic . . .

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pulp . . .

She had seen her pass by every morning for a year now. And the yellow dress wasn’t new, but the day was. She put the coffee cup down on the sill just as the machinists whistled at the girl - they whistled, in vain, in a replay, as though they had forgotten the girl ignored them the previous day, their hope was eternal, for a smile, a wink, perhaps something in her hips would say “yes.” Estelle wished for some acknowledgement too, as though the girl’s change in manner might be just the thing to jolt the world to it’s senses. She lit another cigarette and caught sight of herself in the mirror, she knew it was there, the long cut on her cheek bone, but she wanted to forget. There were people in the hallway, they stopped briefly at her door, she drew smoke deep into her lungs and let it out when the voices disappeared down the stairs. Had they noticed something about the door? Could they tell what had happened?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wolfy & The Goats

Dear people of San Jose, Wolfy is expanding her empire . . . 
check it out

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Long Distance

married on the ides of march, and a few days later, we were saying good-bye at the airport . . . i cried so hard in the ladies' room that it made people uncomfortable. i remember talking to you on the phone that night, the bleating of tree frogs coming through the lines, punctuating your words, the dog sat on the bed and looked out the window, he was waiting for you to come home for dinner - but it took 9 months and a hurricane for us to have dinner together again . . .

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Green Apartment - Part Three

"I move in tonight Estelle." Muriel closed the drawer of the big filing cabinet that blocked the window next to her desk, she wanted to rearrange things, but she had lived with it for so long now, it hardly mattered.
"Oh marvelous - I knew it would be just right."
"You didn't mention the snake . . . "
"Snake?"
"Yes, Iris, the Green Parrot Snake."
"I didn't know he had a snake, but then again, I only went there once. He made a pass at me and I left rather quickly. Did he make a pass at you?"
"If Latin classification of flora is a the new love sonnet form, then maybe he did and I completely missed it. Or maybe Iris the snake was just too much of a distraction."
"Well, you can handle feeding the snake, can't you? What's it eat?"
"Estelle, most people who keep snakes keep them in glass acquariums - you know with some sand, maybe a rock to curl up on, don't they?"
"I suppose so . . ."
"Well, Iris, lives at liberty, in the plants. I don't have to feed her or clean her cage. All I have to do is check the sheets each night before going to sleep, because apparently she likes to curl up under the covers like a cat."
"Oh!" Estelle's voice carried out the door into the Circulation Department and over the front desk out into the great hall that used to contain the card catalogs, but those were replaced years ago by a bank of computers which were currently being replaced by sofas, because nobody needed those big terminals to find the books anymore, the library was on everyone's cell phones. A little girl leaning on her mother as they read a book together heard Estelle, and put her finger to her lips, "shhhhhhhhhhhh," and her mother turned the page. "What do you do if Iris is in there? Under the sheets?"
"Get a hotel room, I guess."

******

The airplane painted to resemble a red and green Macaw flew into the setting sun as Fattoria sipped his gin and tonic in first class, it was 6:01, and Muriel was negotiating the series of locks on the ochre door for the first time. She had one large suitcase, faux Burberry, bought on the street some years ago right before she spent that year in London. The zipper no longer worked properly, but it hardly mattered, as it would not be going overseas again.
The door finally gave in to her pleas and swung open. Muriel pushed the suitcase with her foot into the oppressively hot apartment. "Hi Iris, I'm home." Muriel took off her coat, and her sweater, and as she was already beginning to sweat, she took off her shoes and her knee socks too. She went to the kitchen and before she got to the refridgerator, a note from Fattoria stopped her - neatly written on a yellow legal pad, it leaned on an empty gin bottle in the middle of the kitchen table.

My Dear Muriel,
Welcome home. I'm somewhere over the southern Atlantic right now, the seat belt indicator has gone dark, and undoubtedly I'm content, being on my third or fourth gin and T. and imagining you inhabiting my little jungle away from the jungle. Iris promised me she'd be on her Best Behavior.


The electric bill is payed for the next six months, you have no worries there. Remember if there is a power outage to reboot the little laptop in the bedroom, it controls everything, the water, the lights, and the thermostat. The password is Plumbago.

Good Luck,
Louis


Muriel sat in the chair for a moment and said Plubago outloud and several times, "Plumbago, Plumbago, Plumbago . . . " and then she remembered she once had a distant uncle, of which she had many because her mother had married so many times, who was name Louis, and her mother told her he suffered from Lumbago. She thought it sounded like a dance, to do the Lumbago in a red cafe in Buenos Aires with a man she'd never met before would be quite exciting. But maybe Dr. Fattoria would be dancing the Lumbago upon his arrival on the banks of the Amazon, and this would charm his guide, the one with the bone through his nose, the one with the name spelled only with consonants, the one who would be eaten by a school of piranha, sometime into the expedition, only two days before Fattoria would find the orchid he was looking for, and he would name it for his guide, who's bones now lay on the bottom of the big river.
Muriel felt she had the whole night ahead of her. Fattoria left a bottle of wine and fettucine for her. He had also left fresh cream, eggs, and butter and his favorite Italian cookbook opened to Alfredo sauce for her, "You must cook Muriel, the plants like us to be fat and happy." And Muriel wasn't sure of the meaning of that, but she decided to indulge herself on this first night in the Terrarium as she planned to call it from now on, "Estelle, I'm going to live in the Terrarium."
Muriel carefully whisked the cream and the eggs together over the low flame and now she was down to nothing but her t-shirt and silky under drawers, because cooking in the tropical heat of the apartment wearing a wool skirt was unbearable. She found nutmeg in the cabinet and carefully grated it over her Alfredo sauce. This was not in the recipe, but she liked nutmeg with cream and eggs, so this would make the plants happy wouldn't it? If she was happy the plants would follow. She tossed the fettucine and sauce in a big green bowl, added parmesan and pepper and decided to eat in the living room with the plants. "Hello everyone," Muriel lowered herself into the big leather chair and crossed her legs. The leather was cool against her bare legs and she began to eat and sip her wine in a rhythm she thought was somewhat plant like. "How do plants like to eat?" she wondered, "Slowly I suppose, very slowly. Snakes eat like plants don't they Iris? Where are you Iris? You're not in my bed are you?"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Father's Lens . . .

and what was i through my father's lens?



Tuesday, February 14, 2012

valentine

beet juice on the cutting board
and rain on the roof . . .

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Unlikely Bookkeeper

when i was small, i spent hours avoiding math in school -- it wasn't difficult in elementary school; my town ran an experiment to see if we could teach ourselves the finer points of math and from fourth grade until sixth, all that was required of me was to complete a series of math worksheets. i was given an period of time to work on them each week and if i had any questions, i could ask my teacher, but i was given the luxury of doing the worksheets as My Own Pace and without any supervision whatsoever. By the time i reached sixth grade i had completed all of thirty worksheets out of the one hundred that were required - so you see, there was a Goal in mind, but we were only gently pushed toward that goal. My sixth grade teacher was panicked by my lack of motivation, he was my first male teacher, with a tendency toward abusive language -- he was dark haired, lithe, and had a mustache - he was an unfunny Groucho Marx. He decided the only way i would complete my math journey to one hundred was to keep me in for recess for the entire year. And he moved my desk next to his desk, while all the other students' desks were arranged in pods of four, i was a pod of one, next to Morrison's desk, his eye ever on me. There would be no daydreaming of ponies or musings of stories, there would only be math. There had been frequent beatings for me on the playground in fifth grade - i was forever being punched, kicked, thrown about - i fought back late in the spring of fifth grade and punched my assailant, a boy who was abused quite a bit himself, right in the nose i landed and he fell back into the swings and blood spurted brightly from his nostrils and for a moment i thought i had killed him, but i had only broken his nose -- the boy killed himself in a game of Russian Roulette when we were 17 and all i could think of was the day i broke his nose. i cried when the decree on No Recess came, but at the same time, my prison would be my protection too. And Morrison sat there with me, every damn day, saying almost nothing, eating his egg salad sandwich, and sipping coffee -- i don't think any teacher would do such a thing today. i progressed from elementary to Jr. high school with no hiccup, my one hundred worksheets of math were completed and the town of Westport declared the experiment a failure the following year and commanded it's teachers to Teach math once again.

i was haunted by math from then on - i struggled through Junior High School Algebra and Chemistry 101 in the eleventh grade practically brought me to suicide. And all that time i dreamed of being a Marine Biologist, because of Jacques Cousteau on the television and a book i received one Christmas on the subject of Whales, but the counselor told me my Test Results showed i had no aptitude for science . . . apparently science was math and math was science, so i was to seek out something more to my temperament, and English was that thing and so that is the arrow i was tethered to, the sea would have to go on without me.

But i was always fascinated with Mrs. Floria - who is Mrs. Floria? She was the Bookkeeper in Trudy Gary's Country Mouse - the children's clothiers my grandmother worked as a saleslady in for some twenty five years, down there on Main Street in Westport. Mrs. Floria was quite elegant, she smoked, and wore bifocals attached to an ornate chain that draped over her tailored shirts - sometimes she wore Lilly Pulitzer skirts and her hair was perfectly coiffed. She worked upstairs over the showroom of the store, and she had a little sliding glass window that she could open to let out the smoke and call out questions to the salesladies. There was a spiral staircase that led to her quarters, her garret, where she counted the money and she humored little me with my ideas that we should install a pneumatic tube system for messages - i wanted to send up little sheets of paper to her and she in turn could send little notes down the curves of the spiral staircase to me, which i would deliver to the ladies on the sales floor. Sometimes i would wander up there and watch her write neatly and perfectly in her green ledger.

Years later i would graduate from college with nothing but an English degree and a part-time job at the library which led me strangely to understand databases -- books on shelves in a library are nothing but the grandest of databases, did you know that? i learned how to manage a database by shelving books - math is nothing but orderliness, that is all it is. But it took me pushing books on carts and placing them on shelves and the Library of Congress system to teach me that . . . it's not esoteric at all, it's about doing things in a certain manner, it's about your ABC's and 123s.

And so the library launched me into working as a database manager for the environment and next thing you know i taught myself how to make maps by digitizing points in space on a tablet . . . which was nothing more than knitting really. This wasn't math it was meditation.

And when i burned out on all that, i took a job that was a bit easier than anything i had ever done, Bookkeeping and i find myself going into my little garret once or twice a week, always dressed as well as Mrs. Floria, but without the cigarette, and i neatly record the numbers in the green ledger and Morrison is in the back of my mind, shaking his head and finishing off his egg salad sandwich . . . he say, "Wolfy, life is short, don't sleep through it."

How Was Your Day?

so there i am, standing on line in the WSM with a bottle of wine, a bag of peas, some severely fresh fettucine, and alfredo sauce from the deli, and the girl at the register asks the young man buying the big can of Foster's in front of me, "How was your day?" and he says "Well, someone called me a Pharisee at work today" and she says, "WAT?" and i lean in and echo her "WAT?" and the young man repeats, "Pharisee, he called me a Pharisee" and so i repeat, "WAT? He called you a fairy? No way!" and the girl echoes me, "He called you a fairy?" and he says "No no no, he called me a Pharisee, it's biblical" and i say, "Biblical is right!" and the young man explains, "Apparently i was being too much to the letter of the law on this real estate deal - the Pharicees were intensely self-righteous and persnickety about the Law." i unload my groceries on the belt and look at the girl as she rings up the Foster's, "I thought he said Fairy" and she says "so did i," and then i looked at the young man and said, "that has got to be the most obscure insult ever" and the girl said, "i would have said thank you, i would have thought it was a compliment." As the young man walked away, he said, "Well, I'm off to read my Tora."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Green Apartment - Part Two

A series of locks had to be navigated before Fattoria opened the ochre steel door and motioned Muriel to precede him into the apartment. At once she felt warm, her skin perspired, her clothes felt heavy with mist, and she had to close her eyes and open them again slowly, because this was a quality of light she had not seen before, it vibrated like a memory, like a thought passing from the plants to her. Fattoria took her coat and her purse and layed them on the one chair, a captain's chair, at the kitchen table. The kitchen was a the only room devoid of plants, despite the fact there was a window, but this window was made of stained glass, a depiction of Saint Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland into an angry sea. Muriel gazed at the stained glass, "It was here when I moved in, the window - this place used to belong to a very superstitious old Irish woman. I found whiskey bottles in every closet on the first day, some empty, some not. Cheap whiskey too."
"They say there never were snakes in Ireland . . . " Muriel couldn't believe how hot it was in the apartment, she wondered why it was so hot.
"They, my dear Muriel, are correct, no self-respecting snake ever swam to Ireland or away from Ireland. St. Patrick was no Moses. Would you care for a drink? It's cocktail hour, perhaps a glass of wine? Or join me in a gin and tonic? I leave for Rio in the morning and quinine is running in my blood. I quit taking malaria pills years ago. They render me helpless - nightmares, night sweats, and doubling me over with pain. The British knew what they were doing when they drank all those gin and tonics in tropical colonies, the quinine keeps the malaria at bay."
"Water for me thank you, I suddenly feel a bit warm." Muriel wanted to admit to feeling dizzy too, and there was now a slight ringing in her left ear.
"It's the plants, you'll have to live with it I'm afraid. I keep the temperature at a constant 82 degrees, they thrive that way, any cooler and they begin to weaken. Why don't you have a seat in the living room and I'll bring you some water straight away."
Muriel blinked and walked into the living room, although, it was nothing but an overstuffed leather chair with a small bookshelf and a lamp at it's side. The bookshelf was neatly arranged with nothing but botanical volumes, specifically dealing in tropicals. Fattoria was whistling in the kitchen, "Puccini?" Muriel thought, "Yes, Madame Butterfly . . . I am the happiest girl in Japan."  Muriel heard ice cubes tinkling in a glass and this made her feel immediately cooler. She blinked again and began to feel overwhelmed by the plants that crowded the room. Great numbers of them, and they seemed to grow from the walls and the floors, if there were any pots, any soil, they weren't apparent. There were bromiliads, ferns, Elephant Ears as large as the windows, philodendrons, Bird of Paradise, Jade, and Canna Lillies. There were trees that reached to the ceiling and made a canopy so fine Muriel expected to see the night sky, the stars, the moon revealed through the leaves - Rubber Trees, Magnolia, Mahogany, banana, and olive. There was an orange tree heavy with fruit, and a fig tree and palms and a small stand of bamboo. Purple orchids reached toward her in the chair as if to say, "and who are you?"
Lights flickered. She heard water running and then stopping and then running again, soft rain, then the trickling of a nearby tiny waterfall. A series of clicks and then more lights came on and some went off. The room was very alive with plants and now she could see, alive with small hoses and wires and tiny grow lights, some only pinsized beams of light directed at one orchid.
"Do you know plants Muriel?" Fattoria swept into the room and handed her a large frosty glass of water.
"No, not really . . . I know what a Christmas Cactus is. I had one once. And there are so many ficus trees in the library, one really has to know what they are. Everything else is either grass or weeds or trees to me. One plant frankly is indistinguishable from another. Is that alright? I mean, will the plants need me to know them if I live here?"
"This is a Traveler's Tree. This is jasmine simplici folium, or just jasmine. Blue Plumbago, plumbago auriculata. This? This is Queen of the Night, selenicereus grandiflora." Fattoria lingered with the Queen of the Night and took a sip of his gin and tonic, then he jiggled the glass for some sort of icy punctuation and crossed the room, "Mother-in-Law's Tongue, sansevieria trifasciata, and here is the sublime Rice Paper Plant." Muriel listened as Fattoria waltzed around the room introducing the plants, as though they were debutantes at the ball. Each time he touched a plant and named it, the leaves seemed to swoon, to curtsy, to take a bow at their acknowledgement. Muriel could see Fattoria was deeply in love with his plants and the plants obviously returned this affection. Eventually Fattoria came to sit on a small jeweled Persian rug beneath the hibiscus tree and quietly finished his gin.
Muriel noticed something move among the passion flowers. She watched, the flowers went still again. And then the thing moved again, this time making a long sweep through the orchids and coming to a rest, curled neatly around a bamboo tree. It was as though a vine had taken leave of it's senses and decided to move house. "Mr. Fattoria?
"Yes, Muriel"
"Is that a snake?"
"Yes, Muriel, that's Iris."