Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thankful for:

Gideon and Ivan, November 1989
Gideon and Ivan, November 2007
Ingredients: TurkeyAnd friends, and love, and food, and all that good stuff.
(I can haz turkey NOW???)
(I haz had LOTS of turkey.)

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sleepy Sunday and Goshawks

Everyone's gone outside to play, and now everyone gets a nap.
I particularly like how Mr. Bonkers folds himself up like a penknife.

Reading: The Goshawk, by T.H. White.

This is a lovely, odd, reflective little book that Jeff turned me on to. It's ostensibly about his adventures in falconry, trying to tame a goshawk, but it's about a lot of other things at the same time: Nature, solitude, warfare (it's set between the two World Wars, written in the '50s), patience, work, and the relationship of one man to one animal.

This last especially resonates with me. I spend a lot of time walking Dorrie -- not taking her for a walk, necessarily, but walking with her. There is a definite communion involved, and the more I make the effort to imagine why she does what she does, how she thinks, what she sees, the better I can communicate what it is I want from her. I think about this a lot on our walks around the Reservoir, think about it when I stop at a street corner and she sits at my heel and someone calls out of the window of a turning car, "Good dog!" After a day's work and a subway ride home I don't always want to go out in the cold dark evening and trudge around on the streets, but as soon as I clip that leash on her and we set out, I always remember what a privilege it is to be in her company.

This book is about that, some. It's not so evenhanded a relationship -- the hawk is a wild creature, a small insane Teutonic nobleman, and the love only flows one way. But White's focus, and his regard for the animal, and his own flights of thought the hawk inspires -- I relate.
About a year and a half ago I saw a goshawk at the dog run. It's only a few blocks from Van Cortlandt Park, which is a large and fairly wild expanse that borders the North Bronx and Westchester. There are plenty of raggedy forests and wetlands in it, and lots of wildlife -- a coyote turned up there less than 15 years ago. And hawks, definitely. This one was on the chain link fence of the dog run, though, eating something small, and was wholly unconcerned with my presence. I got to within 20 feet of it and just stared. It was an incredible animal. I watched it for a good long time, until it finished its lunch and flew off. I've seen it since then, high overhead, but never at such close quarters. But now that I'm reading The Goshawk I have a feeling it'll present itself to me again, some time soon. I'm keeping my eye out, anyway.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Dog Portrait Project

A month or so back my friend Meridith, who’s Director of Education at the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, put out a general open call for dog photos, to be accompanied by a brief description of the dog in question. Hey, if there’s one thing we have plenty of, it’s pictures of Dorrie. I sent a few, including one featuring Mr. Bonkers as well.
Now the two of them are featured in Rush Kids Dog Portraits, which in turn is part of an international Dog Portrait Project, an exhibition that will tour the world and eventually be a fabulous coffee table book!

The artist is Naya. I wonder if she's willing to sell, because I love it.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Short Afternoon of Grey Chickens

The guy at the service station I go to was on my case about my tires for a while. He'd replaced one that had a slow, persistent leak with a good used tire – there’s no way I’m shelling out for new tires on this car, which I hope not to own for too many more years – and every time I stopped for gas he’d ask when I was going to get the rest of them. I’d already agreed that I needed to, since they were all ancient and balding, but I’d been dragging my feet on it for a while.

Finally a few weekends ago I conceded. “Look,” he said, making me walk around the car and examine the shiny smooth edges of the remaining ones, “I’m not just trying to sell you tires. You shouldn’t be driving around on those.” Obviously he was trying to sell me tires, but I took his point.

It was one of that last string of warm, sunny weekends, and I hung around outside while they worked on my car. It’s a pleasant enough garage, and the guys who work there are polite, and best of all, they have chickens.

Some service stations have a resident cat that lounges around on the pavement in front of the office, some have an ugly but friendly junkyard dog. This place has chickens – three grey hens and a brown rooster – patrolling the joint and generally keeping out of trouble. I watched them emerge from the garage, single file, and make their rounds of the premises, giving the cars a good wide berth but looking, for the most part, unconcerned. They scratched around under the chain link fence. They walked out to the sidewalk, then back. They found a cache of old fried chicken bones, and pecked at those, which didn't bear thinking about very hard. And eventually they retreated to the rear of the garage where they settled down among the engine parts and hoses, the hens roosting contentedly watched over by the rooster.

A woman walked out of the office with a can of Coke and told me that the hens were originally white, but that life in the garage had dyed them a permanent sooty grey. That didn't bear thinking about very hard either. Still, they looked pretty serene.

Sometimes having a camera in my cell phone is just a pain in the ass – I'm always turning it on by mistake when I pull it out of my purse and end up taking a photo of the underside of my chin, which is nothing I want a record of. But sometimes it's a very good thing. Because every so often there are chickens when I'm getting my tires changed in the Bronx, and that is worth remembering.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Alvy, pensive

Alvy is calming down and getting fat. He is unbelievably soft and sleek, like having a tiny mink coat that sits on your lap and purrs.


Sunday, November 04, 2007


One thing my parents did that, on reflection, was very cool was buy boxes of old books for me when I was young. I was insatiable – one of those kids who always checked out the limit of library books twice a week – and aside from being a good way to keep me in reading matter, I think it all those old $5-a-box books influenced me enormously as an adult reader. I grew up in a college town with several bookstores and a good library, and I'm sure there was no shortage of that type of suburban book sale. It’s a very imprinted set of memories: the musty smell that hovered around the cardboard boxes, the slightly rough and often torn dustjackets, the roundish, easy to read bold Book Antiqua type, the weird eclectic stuff my parents must have had a good time picking out. Much the same way certain viscerally pleasant memories get transmuted into your own personal litany of kinks once you're an adult, those are mine. Some of them, anyway... this isn't that kind of blog.

There was a certain type of anthology published for children back in the day – I’m going to say the first half of the 20th century up through the early '60s. They were part of that whole optimistic ethos of planting the seeds of interest in poetry, mythology, stories from all over the world, gripping tales from classic authors, excerpted if need be, and sprinkled with strange and beautiful illustrations – A Child’s Garden of Verses, the My Bookhouse series, Little Pictures of Japan, 101 Kitten and Cat Stories, all sorts of others. I don’t see that kind of hopeful prodding toward anything classic much anymore, and I think it’s a shame – which officially makes me a crusty, cranky old person, but this isn't that kind of blog either.

But shit, I remember getting turned on to all sorts of cool stuff that I might have encountered later, but too late to have become full-blown literary kinks. The Robin Hood and King Arthur legends, Coleridge, Poe, Sherlock Holmes, Jack London, Rudyard Kipling… just off the top of my head. The list was long and throughout my life I’ve constantly run into familiar characters and story lines. I can bitch all I want about my weird upbringing, but in that sense my folks did me a big solid.

I did my best to pass that spirit on to Gideon, and fortunately his dad had been raised with that same gentle literary prodding, so we were able to hand at least a bit of that down to him.

Not the books, though. All my childhood stuff up to age 14 – books, toys, stuffed animals, furniture, the awesome handmade red barn that I used as a dollhouse (horses downstairs in the stalls, hayloft converted to a groovy open-plan living area) – all of it is gone, lost, sacrificed to somebody else’s bad judgment and relationship dysfunction and hey, I’m not going there. But I don’t have any of it. Don’t have it, don’t know where it is, and have given up hope of ever seeing it again. I went through a period of great bitterness when it became clear that I wouldn’t have the privilege of passing any of my childhood stuff on to my own son. And now that window has closed and I’ve let go and all that’s left is a little wistful sadness for the books. The books were wonderful. I would have loved the luxury of sifting through them now and then.

Today Jeff went to the big weird open-air year-round used book sale on 72nd Street and came home with a few things for himself and a present for me: a well-loved and thumbed-through hardcover from 1964 called The Personality of the Dog. Because it looked like something I’d like, he said, like a cool kids’ book. But when I saw it, before I had even fully registered the title, I gasped “I had that!” Somewhere in their infinite wisdom as book procurers for a girl who loved words and animals, and especially dogs, my parents had picked that up. I don’t remember the stories and poems inside so much as that cover, with the (in retrospect) kind of badly drawn but still awfully endearing dog on the front. That’s the dog I grew up wanting. And it’s a book I grew up with on my shelves.

So no, I’ll never get my childhood library back. But because I have that deep-seated kink for old books and the thrill of the chase for them, and because the people who love me best are bent a little that way too, every so often an old friend comes back to the fold like that. It’s a sweet thing.