Showing posts with label dog life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dog life. Show all posts

Monday, November 4, 2013

Davy's Grey

When I was little Mame had an African grey parrot named Kato who hated us children with the zeal of a terrorist, and accompanied Mame everywhere she went, perched on her shoulder. The effect was of a querulous Athene noctua, the Little Owl of Athena, Mame's very verbal daemon. Kato knew some Latin names of flowers (Mame was a well-known horticulturist) and nuzzled her cheek tenderly as she read the paper every morning. He also embarked on theatrical nervous breakdowns when the sole object of his avian affection hosted dinner parties for other humans, during which he'd pull out his feathers and scream expletives at the guests. But Kato adored Mame, and Mame –for his devotion and ability to sing with her in French– loved Kato.

In Mame's greenhouse: slipper orchid varieties from Borneo, massive ferns she'd propagated from spores at Planting Fields, grafted heirloom roses, cascading garlands of winter jasmine. Here and there between the terracotta pots my sisters and I would on occasion find Kato's evil molted feathers. They looked like pigeon feathers, nothing remarkable (I'm in the studio right now and realize they were the exact color of Old Holland Davy's grey oil paint).

And yet somewhere in a shoebox of girlhood wampum stashed under my bed at the farm is a collection of Kato feathers, tied up with a piece of garden twine from Mame's greenhouse. I think I kept them all these years because under my surface-level repugnance toward him, I admired Kato for his deep devotion to Mame (in this way Kato and I had something in common). The grey feathers of the dead parrot who loved my dead great-aunt.

It's a way to hold on to her.

Last week after class I took Maggie to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to see the Titian, ogle the chrysanthemum display, sit in front of the canary in the reading room and wait for him to warble.


It's no wonder why the Gardner is my favorite museum.

I miss Mame often, sometimes so deeply and suddenly a sluice of tears fills my eyelids before I can locate the trigger. One morning last spring in New York the Dutch parrot tulips spilled from every bodega on 2nd Avenue and I fled to tulipless 1st Ave to gather myself before rushing to a studio visit with a famous painter who turned out to be a lecherous faux-spiritualist with halitosis. After he left (thank GOD) I went out and bought myself two dozen tulips on the way to the F train and smiled the whole way home.

The lesson there has something to do with embracing your grief. Also, oral hygiene.

In my experience one passes some invisible threshold around the age of thirty and no longer cares about impressing people in general but wishes to dote emphatically on the people one loves and trusts. I suppose it's just people growing up. I see this happening all around me in my circle of friends.

P. and I are spending our last morsel of expendable income flying to the desert for his 30th birthday later this week after I finish my last class, and I can't wait to celebrate together with our friends in our favorite place on earth. P. and I have been working on a big project that will allow us to spend more time out there, and I can't wait to share more soon.

One last thing. My wonderful friend Kelly made a downloadable calendar featuring successfully adopted cats and dogs, and a clematis-crowned Dolly is Miss November. You can read about Kelly's project here, and download the sweet calendar here. All proceeds go to the Human Society.


Monday, September 9, 2013


Speedboat, by Renata Adler. A slim ransom note of a book. Suspend your expectations of what a novel should be: there is no avenue of plot down which to venture, no clear procedure towards a climax, just neat, perfect prose. New York in the 70s, a journalist, vague dispatches to the Middle East, professors, a poet, fifth-floor walk-ups, cigarettes, a long distance lover, the politics of good dinner party conversation. It is fragmentary and terse, but psychologically complete.

It's been a month since I read it and I can't stop thinking about it. Adler wrote it in 1976 but it reads like a pulse-taking of at-the-moment New York. (And god, that Avedon portrait.)

We went to Maine and I was supremely lazy and unhelpful but I read a lot. I looked up all the birds and plants and trees, which is my favorite way to pass the time, to learn the names.

To learn the names. Last night we went grocery shopping and I lingered over the exotics bin in the produce department, remembering how a street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City split open a reddish, wild-spiny something (a fruit? a mollusk?) and motioned for me to eat the white fleshiness inside. I didn't know what it was but she caught me in a moment of sure-why-not and I ate it, and it was unlike anything I've ever tasted.

Rambutan. Sometimes we are lucky and we learn the name of the thing after we learn the thing itself.

P. and I packed up the Brooklyn apartment and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. We only brought what fit in our pickup. Everything else is in storage in Gowanus, or making its way through the circulatory system of the New York Salvation Army. I gave away all my prized rare ferns. I kept my beefsteak begonia from Sarah, and my behemoth staghorn fern I bought from the little crystal and succulent shop on Avenue A where the Peruvian shopkeeper is always high and gives you a discount if you pay in cash.

September Fact Inventory:

1. Rosehips are redder on the south side of Little Cranberry Island, oranger on the north side.

2. You can't pick mushrooms if it doesn't rain.

3. Dogs have free will: Dolly, almost six, has never much cottoned to the water. Or fetching with any regularity or commitment to the craft. (She excels as a desert dog: flushing quail, climbing enormous boulders, protecting me from cholla/ rattlesnakes/ meth-heads, snuggling on cold desert nights.) While we were in Maine P. threw a hunk of driftwood into the ocean and Dolly just out of the blue went into the frigid water and brought it back to us. Now she is a Swimming & Fetching kind of dog. Just like that.

4. P. and I have been married five years. Marriage is a distinct thing that one cannot see but it occupies space in the universe like an Idea or a Soul.

5. I moved to Cambridge for nine months (three blocks away from my kid sis!). I have a teaching fellowship gig and P. has one last year of grad school. No one gives a shit where your clog boots are from and everyone wears backpacks and is in the middle of inventing or writing or translating something. I miss New York, but it's good to be back in New England and surrounded by sugar maples, transcendentalists.

5a. We have a date to swim Walden Pond later this week.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Yes List:

James Turrell at the Guggenheim
daylilies: in tonight's salad, on Dolly's velvet head, along upstate country roads
Kuba textiles
Graham Greene's A Sort of Lifewhich I can't believe I'm only now just reading
Tom Waits on John Baldessari
A reminder from Our Patron Saint of bigBANG, Agnes Martin:

There are so many people who don’t know what they want. And I think that, in this world, that’s the only thing you have to know — exactly what you want. … Doing what you were born to do … That’s the way to be happy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Old Dogs in Springtime

Because of the manhunt I couldn't get to Boston to see P. on Friday, so I fled New York to the farm to dog-sit for my parents. I've kept it private for the most part, but you might as well know: Mac's back legs started to go soon after we moved back from India, slowly at first, but now he's completely paralyzed from the shoulders back. Mac (also known on this blog as Biscuit) has been my copilot for twelve years. He is my Life Dog. Steadfast and lionhearted, he's defended me from coyotes, rattlesnakes, scorpions, and the vicissitudes of the heart, but late-onset degenerative myelopathy is getting the better of him in his otherwise spry old age back on the farm. (His body is crippled but he's liberated when he dozes; as I write this, his front paws are twitching as he chases something in a dream.)

I spent six hours answering Block Shop emails Sunday afternoon with Mac at my feet, then at five o'clock I poured myself a bourbon, set my jaw, and headed out to the barn. I rifled through the storage and boxes of baling twine in the now-empty hayloft until I found our ancient Radio Flyer, which contained a mouse-nibbled garbage bag labeled "CHILDREN'S SHOES / 4 GOODWILL" in my mother's neat, faded handwriting. There's probably a word in German for the feeling of finding a forgotten bag of one's childhood shoes, but I don't know what it is.

I loaded Mac into the wagon and took him for a walk down to the edge of the woods where rogue daffodils come up every spring. Mac sniffed the breeze perched like a regal Maharajah atop his palanquin while Dolly chased voles and I filled my bucket.

My ninth grade English teacher made us memorize and recite Wordsworth, but I can only ever remember the first two couplets of Daffodils. But sometimes two couplets is plenty, and I recited them for Mackerel as I pulled him up the hill through the boggy spring fields and back to the house.

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud
(or, Daffodils)

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

–William Wordsworth, 1807

Monday, September 24, 2012

Desert Words

{Desert Life, Revisited}

Snow geese migrate south over the Mojave Desert this time of year. They come down from Canada via the Pacific Flyway, en route to Mexico. Montana gets snow in June and Joshua Tree gets snow geese in September. One could choose her home by axioms of natural phenomena.

Cholla, wadi, mesa, yucca. Words we no longer use, desert words. Words that stay in your mouth after you say them.

Mormon tea. Cactus wren. Spanish daggers. Compound names, modifiers loaded with the history of the west.

You go out, you wear boots, you are accompanied always by dogs. There are rattlesnakes in your garden, shotgun shells in your linen closet, persimmons on your kitchen counter. In this way you know yourself when you are living in the desert.

Pictures from Joshua Tree, California, 2008-2010. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Wedding Effect

{This Morning's Op-Ed in the Times}
Our gal Maggie Shipstead (author -if you've somehow escaped my cyber-trumpeting- of my favorite summer book Seating Arrangements) wrote a brilliant op-ed in the New York Times this morning about weddings. Chiefly, about being a 29-year-old unmarried woman going to heaps upon heaps of weddings, and the resulting numbing from the whole gauntlet. It's witty, skeptical, hilarious, and true.  (Full disclosure: it may or may reference a certain wedding in which I was, in fact, the bride.)

Read it here. I think Mags is in good company. Thoughts? 

Image above of the Wedding Dog and Anniversary Rug. The hound of love was acquired a mere week or so into our fledgling marriage, while the rug -a vegetable-dyed dhurrie- was purchased by P. in Jodhpur as a gift to yours truly on our third wedding anniversary. He carried it rolled up on his back on the bus back to Jaipur. We don't do presents often, but when we do, we try to make them count. And have spots. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nellie's Ashes

{The Week in Five Lessons}

Lessons from the past week:

1. Never leave Montana.

2. Make sure to tell the vet to adjust the dog incinerator on "fine grind" next time. An analogy to a coffee grinder vis-à-vis french press versus espresso might sound macabre, but trust me on this one- for the sake of everyone attending the dog funeral you definitely want espresso dog ashes, not the Chex Mix we got. (Sorry, old Nellie girl! Sorry, everyone!)

3. Pet funerals have the potential to be surprisingly hysterical after the initial tears (see lesson no. 2).

4. A week away from the internet is a GREAT idea.

5. Visit beloved family and friends who live in hard-to-reach places as often as possible.

Hope you are all well. Have you read Seating Arrangements? What are you waiting for?!