Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Snow Days

The kids looked forward to them like they were more special than Christmas Day, and in all the years we lived in Seattle it seems like we never had more than one or two, but snow days are snow days, eagerly watched for the night before, groaned over when the night’s accumulation only yielded a late start at school. The snow day is not loved by adults, certainly not by anyone who must get to work and can’t just phone it in.

 Snow days for some adults are like fretful days spent at home when a child is sick and a sitter can’t be found. Snow days are when the office building is being fumigated for rats, or when there’s an acquisition rumor, or the boss quits abruptly, or the project is cancelled, but, in any case, all the meetings are rescheduled and no one is getting anything done. Snow days are the whole day taken off work for a teacher conference that lasted twenty unproductive minutes and won’t lead to the kid being one bit happier or more adjusted to the school.

Some people seem to know just what to do on a grown-up snow day. They hit the gym, or the spa, or do some sort of whiskey tasting or a day-long iPhone photography seminar. Or, they get new tires, or clean out the garage, or completely reorganize their sewing room, with enough time leftover to can a dozen jars of bourbon roasted-cranberry relish. Some people live like they’re waiting for a snow day, and they know just how they’ll spend it.

Before it began snowing in earnest (we were awaiting Juno), I took the dogs out for the counterclockwise tour of the property. There was thick ice under the current top layer of snow, and the top layer wasn’t quite deep enough for snowshoes, so I went out in snow boots and took a pole. The dogs went fast; they just don’t mind as much as I do the scrambling and slipping. I fell on my ass, once.

We came upon a dead fox that made me sad. Who kills a fox? A bobcat? Bear? Coyotes? Old age? Lover’s quarrel? Turf war? Was it poisoned by neighbors? Should I freeze it and take it to the vet for an autopsy? We’ve been watching a fox all year. We could see it hunting along the bushes. Crouching, pouncing. The cat liked to watch it. The dogs hated the fox, and barked their angriest intruder alerts when it trotted across the upper field in the late morning sunshine. Was this that fox?

By the morning the storm had come, and we’d been promised as much as two feet of snow. I awoke to the bright whiteness of daylight without sunshine. The snow was falling, hard, but the flakes were tiny, light, and seemed determined to stay in the air and never land. Outside the windows facing east and west the snow flew by, horizontally, soundless. It gave me the impression of motion, the way that snow would look from a speeding car. Except we were in the house, and the house wasn’t whizzing along at 26 mph. The dissonance, the mismatch of perceived motion to sensed stillness made me feel a little sick.
Following on snowshoes
Later that day, we timed our walk to catch the end of the day and the falling snow. The young dog took off at a run while I struggled with the straps. I enjoy everything about snowshoeing except putting them on; I’m beginning to think I should strap my snow boots into them and leave them strapped in. Out on the property, I have to walk behind my husband, and he is faster and fitter and has longer legs. The old dog will follow closely behind me in the snow if I’m alone, but with my husband here she fills the space between us.

Towards the end of my parents’ marriage they took a last trip to Europe. My mother came back with a week’s worth of Kodak Ektachrome slides mostly featuring my father from about 30 feet behind; she couldn’t keep up and he wouldn’t wait. In a few years, my father moved on to a new career, and a new wife and kid. My mother moved on to a new career, and a new husband and step-kids. While I follow my husband I wonder what he is moving on to. I stop him and ask him to slow down. He is happy to. The dog gallops off to join the other dog.

We passed the dead fox. It was a simple lump, covered completely in snow. The dogs quietly sniffed it again, and moved on.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Some of the Ways New York City Will Kill You (Other Than Blizzards)

New York City is preparing for a blizzard, but there are so many other ways to die here. 

There is getting hit by a city bus, because everyone knows those drivers don’t obey the lights, won’t avoid pedestrians, and will run you down and drive off with your smashed head and mangled shoulders trapped in the grill, your loose entrails running along the undercarriage, your crumpled legs trailing behind, bouncing along the potholes like the old fashioned cans tied to the bumper of a newlywed’s car, leaving a rich smear of blood on the street. 

And taxis, of course, will lurch forward unexpectedly, blowing their horns at you as they belligerently mow you down, aiming to break both your legs and shouting at you and shaking their upraised fists while they steer towards you. 

There are also the saber-wielding food deliverers, on bicycles, cutting the air and swishing a brandished blade as they weave through the crowded sidewalks of midtown, racing to deliver a turkey wrap and a sugar-free Vitamin Water for which they will receive a $2 tip.
Midtown crosswalk
Anyone can perish from old age in New York, but the premature aging induced by trying to find a decent dry cleaner that won’t send your shirts back with mystery smudges is a hidden threat.

Look no further than the cauldron of magma, just below the pavement, hinting at its deadly presence by blowing steam up through the pavement; it will fry you to a crispy rind in a seconds.

The mannikins that liquefy the instant your back is turned and slither along  the ground like a great puddle of melted plastic, reforming into a killing machine just in time to issue a great karate chop to your torso? They slice you with their not-so-lifelike hands, because their fused fingers and flat palms are somehow the sharpest blades, and it doesn’t so much as hurt as it separates your body parts from each other as effortlessly as a hot knife through butter and you lay there wondering, “Was I really done in by a retail clothes dummy?”

Then, there are the wind gusts, strong enough to lift a person wearing a wool overcoat, laden with shopping bags 30 to 80 feet in the air, and dropping the person into a wooden water tank on top of a building, overcoat and shopping bags and all. In your next life you might practice removing a heavy wool overcoat under water. 

Any Icon parking garage is actually a prison of infinite concrete sadness, spiraling forever into the depths of a trans-dimensional void, not unlike Hell itself, but paved, and only $30 for a whole day (plus tip)!

The potholes have been known to actually hold land mines, set by Staten Island Separatists.

If you make eye-contact with an NYPD, it will lock onto you as its latest target, clamping its man-killing grasp around you, like a raptor’s grasp, really, because it, too, has to flex its muscles to open its grip; keeping its hands closed in a tight, angry fist is an effortless act for an NYPD.  And then it spins you into a neat tuck under its arm, commencing the  into the death-lock chokehold all NYPDs are famous for.  Don’t worry; you’ll be dead in an instant.

The shuffling subway zombies are easy to outrun, but the human grease smear they leave on the poles contains a flesh-eating-inspiring virus, penetrating any cuts or sores, and there is no known cure. Even a hangnail is a way in. Soon you will be craving brains, which might not be so bad, since you can find almost anything to eat in New York City, and you can have it delivered.

Every uniform-wearing doorman in Manhattan has a secret pocket for concealing a well-oiled and fully loaded machine gun, and as card-carrying members of the mafia, doormen are obligated to use that weapon if ordered to do so by an authority they recognize.

Beware drunken revelers since there are several well-documented cases of drunken mobs mistaking a stranger for an effigy, soaking the stranger in 4Loko, and setting them ablaze.

New York City’s puddles can actually kill you three ways. First, they are sometimes filled with acid, which will eat through your shoes and burn up your legs in seconds. Second, they are occasionally portals to a soul-stealing parallel universe where a doomed version of yourself will take your place in this reality if you see your reflection in the wrong puddle. Last, some say folks have died from the vomiting induced by just how nasty the puddles are.

There is also the Times Square unauthorized-costume Elmo, who dines on human souls.

And there is the classily suited assassin, who buys you a cosmo at a posh bar but slips in some poison and you die on the barstool in paroxysms of agony.

But, of course, the real way that New York City will kill you is by giving you blisters.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A letter to the mouse that died in my kitchen last night

Dear Mouse,

You’ve probably been living in the basement your whole life, and today wasn’t even too cold. The cat, Schwartz, was feeling lively and caught you. I didn’t even know about you until I heard your peeps and squeaks by the back door.  Were you injured at that point, or just protesting?

Anyway, my first error was calling the dogs. It was an impulse. They found you with Schwartz and started the mad chase into the bathroom and around the toilet. That was me, the one screaming. Why I screamed I can’t say. I had pet rodents as a kid: mice, a hamster, a gerbil, a rat. I picked them up and carried them around. They were my pets. Sometimes they got loose and I had to catch them and put them back. I didn’t scream then. I must have been a better person then, somehow. Well, it wasn’t a little screaming. Sorry about the screaming.

Captain was the next one to pick you up and carry you around. He was the one who got you wet, I think. But when I shouted at him he dropped you and then Cherry snatched you up. She isn’t the quickest dog in the house, owing to her age, but tonight she was the deadliest.

You died quickly, mouse, and Cherry guarded you for a long time. She was very proud of what she’d done, and wouldn’t let anyone look at you or smell you or take you. She didn’t seem interested in eating you, which I would have let her do as the one who did the deed. Somehow, to my mind that seemed fair. Cherry appeared a little confused by the situation. Instinct ruled when she caught you and when she dispatched you, but after that she wasn’t sure. She growled at Schwartz, even, and she never growls at Schwartz.

There was no question of burying you since it’s nothing but ice outside right now. Maybe we could have left you out for the coyotes or the foxes, but where should one leave such an offering? Alas, you went into the trash.

You left a family behind, I’m sure. Schwartz is down there waiting for the next one of you. This is how it is with cats and mice. He keeps his cool, crouching quietly behind the boxes. He knows your habits, and makes a plan. Y’all don’t live very long, do you, mice? Between the hardships of weather and finding food, and then the cat or the foxes and hawks outside, life for you must be harsh and brief. I haven’t had it easy lately either, what with all the injustice in the world.  But I have a warm house, and food, and with any luck I shouldn’t have to watch predators capture and eat my children.

Did you leave behind hopes and dreams, unfulfilled? Will your family sigh over your promises unkept? Are they dividing your possessions as I write this, or do they not yet know? Will they be left wondering whatever happened to you? Maybe they heard the screams. I’m still sorry about the screams.

Vizsla, with mouse

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dear Dogs, or, Why I Forgot to Feed You This Morning,

I got up and got going, you know, feeling ready to tackle the problem that had emerged last night, but when I let you out and found the driveway impassably icy, I got sidetracked. I know I don’t need to tell you how I felt about it because you know everything about how everyone feels, including the cat, even though you might never have the first clue about why anyone feels the way they do. You knew I was worried, and my concern was about getting down the driveway today, given the ice and the scary trip I had doing it yesterday. I got on the phone and spoke to three or four people, trying to figure out what was the best way to proceed, given the sanding that was already done yesterday.

So, then, I got busy figuring out if a dinner could be made with the ingredients in the house. We have had leftovers at least three of the last four nights and though you eat the same thing at every meal, you know I can't do that. I unearthed a forgotten bag of stew meet in the freezer and just enough carrots in the fridge, and embarked upon the making of beef stew for beef pot pie. I fed the sourdough and stole some to start the sourdough biscuit and also started a bit of fresh soup stock from the bones I also found in the deep freeze. You know how I like to cook when I'm worried! 

Next, I went to moan over the problem that emerged last night: my sewing machine. It had stopped working so suddenly, causing all that evening’s woe and heartache and anger. I retraced my mental checklist of threading and settings and power-cord possibilities and found this morning that, lo, and behold! I had overlooked something when the machine stopped sewing last night, and it was a simple cord, unplugged, dangling impishly near but not in the socket where it should have been plugged. And, so, after returning the phone calls and texts about the driveway and the continuing some steps of the cooking process and eating my breakfast, of course, and then being able to finish not only the sewing project I had been working on when I was interrupted yesterday but also to get that much closer to finishing the audiobook I’m close to the end of, I got distracted.
Dogs on snow

The walk was pretty good, wasn’t it? With the property quiet and no one else around, we made the perimeter in record time, counter-clockwise, which is my favorite way to go, and yours. When I sat down at the end to look at the fuzzy buds on the tree and generally take in a mild moment of winter, it wasn’t because I was upset or even pensive, it was an impulse, it is ten degrees warmer today than it’s been in a while, but I guess I don’t have to tell you that either.

Anyway, when I got back in and took off my mittens and your jackets and my hat and scarf and boots and jacket and hung up your leashes and put the mittens and scarf and hat back in the basket and changed out of my long underwear and waterproof pants and put on my corduroys and realized your kennels were still standing open with your food bowls on top, it was then that I realized you hadn’t gotten any breakfast at all, even though it was already three o’clock.

So, I would like to apologize for being distracted and pre-occupied, about the kind of  stupid people-problems that go way beyond icy driveways and ,“do we have a dinner plan?” and into, “what are we doing with our life?” and, “how the Sam Hell did we end up here?!” and, “what are we going to do about that?!”

I love you, dogs. You are good dogs, and mostly obedient, and you’ve done nothing to deserve having to wait so many hours for your breakfast. Dinner will be soon, and you may not even want it, now that your tummies are full.
You could come and whine at me, next time, if I forget. That would be ok.

P.S. I finished the book and it was very good in the end, even if it had that sort of modern dissipating-smoke ending rather than an aha!-ending. It was a fine book.

P.P.S. Would you look at that? Here comes the sun.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Two dogs, one chair
When The Graduate visits, the dogs greet him like they were waiting specifically for him since he was last at the farm. Maybe it was a week and maybe it was a month, but they bark and leap and lick and wiggle. When he is getting ready to leave, they watch him pack, their brows furrowed, their ears drooping down the back of their necks, their bodies curled into impossible knots of worry, their long legs sticking out at strange angles as they both try to be on the same wingback chair. They know.

After a year and a half of living at the farm, the dogs know the property. They know where the fox lives, where the latest deer carcass is, where the best corners for marking their territory are. I usually walk them in the afternoon, when it’s warmest. We walk the perimeter, a just-under-three kilometer route, with a hill. I take leashes, just in case, but generally let my dogs run ahead so they can be dogs.

We got snow last week, and then a day of rain followed by some cold nights.  The snow is no longer fresh, and it has an inch-thick frozen crust. Anywhere we have walked, our old tracks are icy from the compression.

Some days, we go counterclockwise, up the hill and then down, and around and up again. Other days, we go clockwise, down the hill and across and up and then down a ways. If the timing is right, I pick clockwise hoping to catch the beginning of sunset at the top of the hill. Dogs don’t care about sunsets.

Cherry is 12 now, and quite white in the face but still willing and interested in running. The icy snow has made it painful for her starting out some days this week; she seems to tiptoe around, her four feet clenched into teeny tiny paw-fists, her steps short and her back roached. She once stopped to complain, and I told her that her feet would be numb soon enough, and I was right.  She galloped ahead of me once she forgot to be upset about her cold paws. We are only ever out for a half an hour, an hour at the most. I make them wear jackets below 40F, and two layers below 20F. I am aware that she could wear boots, but if I buy dog boots I have to make the dog accept wearing dog boots.  Snow is temporary.

So we tough it out, and Cherry copes, staying on top of the snow and leaving only the tightest little prints in the surface of the unbroken snow.

Captain gallops along, full-throttle, his feet spread out wide. Those paws are webbed, for swimming, and make excellent snowshoes, and he’s so relaxed and happy outdoors that he slaps along the cold snow like it’s the best thing to run on. He loves to run on grass, too, of course, and on pavement, as well. He runs uphill and down, through the woods and over the trails, down the marked paths and the unmarked, diving into the bushes and emerging covered in ticks in all seasons except this one. Sometimes I find thorns stuck in him. He is so happy to be running outside, he just doesn’t care.

I pick my path with care. I stick mostly to the path of the day before, putting my steps not into the footsteps of yesterday because they don’t fit, end to end, or front to back. I’m constantly trying not to fall, looking for the best route, but I trust what I did yesterday; I didn’t fall yesterday, I can walk that path today. I fit my feet in the spaces between my tracks from before. Cherry picks her way around. In the iciest patches she walks behind me, in my footprints. Captain’s footfalls leave holes and after a day are great frozen paw prints, sunk down in the snow, like a marker of his impact. His prints are much bigger than his paws ever appear to be. He runs ahead and around and has to be called back.

The snow should all be gone tomorrow. We are expecting a front with warmer temperatures and lots of rain. There will be mud. Perhaps more snow will come again in another week.

Today, I had a Facebook message from an old friend who’d emailed last week and not heard back. My oldest friends use my oldest email, and I never remember to check it. It is always so full of junk (here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here), I avoid it. If she hadn’t used Facebook, I might not have known for another month. It’s not that I’m hiding; I’m just retracing my steps.