Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Isn't for Alligator....yet

So, well, I said I was going to write about the alligator. And I will. Sometime. But right now I have other things to talk about.

Like, Alyeska. Alyeska is a mountain resort in Alaska that was established in the early 1960's in Girdwood, Alaska, about 35 miles southeast of Anchorage. The mountain itself is called Alyeska, which is actually an Aleut word meaning 'mainland', 'great country' or 'great land'. It is also the archaic name for Alaska.

And, it is the name of our new puppy, a 6-week-old blonde husky/shepherd/plus mix.

Isn't she adorable?

She is tiny now, and she will probably only grow to be a medium-sized dog. She is playful but very quiet as puppies go. Kacey discovered the online ad for her. When I called up about her, it turned out she was the last of 7 to go, and she was located in a housing area where the streets we drove on bore familiar names. We turned right on Tennessee, left on Nashville, and found her home at Cookville. Now, I'm always one for choosing animals based on 'signs', and these were very good ones indeed.

She spent the ride from there to the school to pick up Mack burrowing for shade in Michael's arms. She's been very brave about meeting her new alpha/mama, Anneke. And we think the two of them will get along fine. Right now they do pretty well, although Anneke can't follow this little critter closely enough. And, when they are outside, Anneke still has to go first.

Here's Anneke. She's a shepherd/collie/and maybe husky mix. And she 'talks' like a collie.

I was informed that Alyeska is my puppy. My husband told me that he felt a little left out of the whole process, so, even though he thought she was neat and he wasn't disappointed, for now Ally was going to be my dog. Well, that lasted for about a half an hour. He was the one taking her around the backyard and talking to her and rubbing her belly. Right now he's taking pictures for me to upload. (there will be more posted at facebook for anyone who is also my friend there)

Now, Michael is staying with us for a bit while he pulls his life together, earning some money, getting more experience in his chosen fields, buying a car. Oddly enough, while he has no desire to stay in Fayetteville -- it's not his hometown, after all, which is Nashville -- he is at least finding some solutions here. We're all agreed that he is basically sticking around long enough to take the best way out of here, but it is working better than he might have thought.

However, Alex was Michael's dog, and Alex is no longer here. So it's not too surprising that Michael spent a good amount of time today getting Alyeska and Anneke acquainted, and running Alyeska around the yard. Astute readers will notice from the pictures of Alex that Alyeska currently resembles him (as we say) only a lot. That may change as the husky markings come in darker, but for now the resemblance is soothing. And having something to care for and care about is important to Michael.

That's the story of our new family member. We'll update periodically. -- most current update: Alyeska is zonked out on our bedroom floor and Anneke is checking on her. Oh, and the cats don't much care, so long as they're fed.

Tag, You're It!


I was thinking about tags the other day as I was working at home.
Tags are very useful things.

HTML is what is called a ‘markup language’ used to create web pages on the Internet. It uses keywords inside angle brackets to describe web pages. These bracketed words normally come in pairs referred to as tags. The first is called the start or opening tag, and the second is called the end or closing tag. Between them is the code and text used to format the web pageƅfs appearance and content. There are tags to make print bold and tags to make italics. There are tags to place pictures on pages and tags to put in links. Tags are essential to building web pages, and therefore anything you see on the Internet, from profound literature to cluttering trash.

Lobster trap tags are plastic tags used in Maine to identify lobster traps the way hospital bracelets (another type of tag) identify patients. The information on these tags includes the fisherman’s license number and the zone in which the person works. They’re color-coded and marked with the year. Each fisherman pays for his or her tags (20¢ apiece in 2002, the date of the book I was reading), and they are limited in how many they can buy, a way of controlling how many traps they can set legally so that areas are not over-fished (over-lobstered?).

At St. Paul’s-in-the-Pines Episcopal Church, parishioners wear nametags on certain Sundays so that visitors will know who people are. This is, of course, one of the most common uses of tags, to identify something or someone.

Then there are dog tags _ for both humans and dogs. One identifies who and what one is, the other identifies to whom the other belongs. (Some people would claim dog tags for humans also identify to whom the wearer belongs.)

There are auto registration tags to identify registered cars. There are hunting tags, to identify registered hunters. There are tags in advertising, sometimes referred to as taglines, that are meant to help our brain register a product in memory, so that we will buy it when next we shop. “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.”

Price tags are used to show what something is worth – at least in terms of how much a person is expected to pay for it. Sometimes the original price is slashed and a new one written in, indicating the bargain you’re getting. That can be a reflection of an item losing its value, but sometimes it’s merely about what shopping traffic will bear.

Tagged as a verb can mean to be given a name or a nickname, like Shorty or Tank. Being tagged means being chosen for something, whether it is to belong to a group or to fulfill a task. Being tagged can also mean being caught and marked, so that one can be kept track of and studied, or so one can be ‘It’.

So, in life, we are tagged. Tagged with a name, tagged to belong, tagged to participate. These tags change as we journey. We lose some and acquire others as we age and travel and develop. And each tag we acquire has its own purpose.

It’s a good idea to examine a tag when it’s applied to us. What is its purpose? Is it to identify who we are, who we belong to, or what we are worth?

Take a look. What are your tags?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Just a Word...

Just wanted to let you folks know that my professional web site and new writing blog "A Writer's Work is Never Done" are under RE-Construction. However, some changes to the blog are complete, in case you want to wander over there. I'm posting book reviews. Mostly right now they are older ones, but they still apply to the books in question. I'll be adding new ones, along with a caveat statement about not receiving anything for the review. *sigh* I'm getting very tired of people's suspicious and litigious natures.

It is very hot here at Blackwater. But I'm so excited. We've received the SUBAC cement we need to fix our dam and causeway. Gotta start pluggin' them thar holes, accordin' to the waterworks guy. We've got leaks that make our lagoon nearly empty out when they temporarily close the gates on the dam upstream.

This summer we've discovered we have freesia. It's all over the place, too, it just hasn't bloomed. We had one gorgeous stalk of flaming orange and red. I'll post a picture as soon as I get my hands on it. We have several bunnies, very BRAVE bunnies who like to tease our dog by springing off right in front of her nose.

We've lost Alex (see previous post); now we have also lost one of our kitties, Pearl. She's the second cat this year, too. We've always had animals, and we take the losses pretty hard. However, we had good years with all of them, and they knew they were loved.

It's only the middle of July, but a lot of pre-school year planning is afoot, especially for the college twins. They've been helping us clear things out here at Blackwater, inside and out. Sorting, weeding, re-arranging. I think they're going to miss the big work at the creek, though. It's too hot and too overgrown and too -- well, snakey -- to do the work right now. It will probably be done after they return to school. As for those snakes, sightings have numbered about 9, with one very dramatic one at a picnic in June. A black snake crossed the yard as we watched, disappearing into the terrace garden. We were only a few feet away, and he was stretched out as he crawled. We think he was about five feet long, which seems to be average for snakes around here.

Next time I'll tell you about the alligator.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A is for Alex

Today’s post is going to be about Alex. I was going to write about the alligator, but that will wait – I’ll get to it,
but Alex takes precedence.

Yesterday, June 14, 2010, Alexander Graham Cookie Dog left us after 12 1/2 years of being our friend, jokester, protector, and sage. Noble was a word coined for him. He was witty and wise and caring. And humorous. It was he who taught US to let him outside by snatching up a shoe or stuffed animal and bringing it to the back door, big grin on his face.

He was patient, discerning what we meant when we said ‘back up’, and carefully, like a well-trained semi driver, extricating himself from close quarters whenever necessary.

He greeted visitors with enthusiasm and authority – sometimes a little more than they were prepared for.

He proved his superiority of speed by racing the cars that passed in front of our house, running parallel behind his fence, reaching the opposite end of our property ahead of the cars 90% of the time. He presented himself at the gate to greet us when he heard our cars drive up – recognizing the motors when we were still a block away.

Although he hated thunder and lightning, he never deserted our sides if we were watching a storm from the doorway. He was always, always near one of us in the house, often no more than a foot away.

At our new house, he taught himself to go down the stairs between the floors. I guess the enclosed stairwell and carpet made it easier, but he conquered the thing all on his own. And oh, he was proud! Equally proud of the last few walks he took around Blackwater. He ambled all around his usual trail, sniffing and eating grass, slurping from the bucket, sniffing the air to try and figure out which way one of the local rabbits had gone. He grinned at us as he climbed the hill and even the stairs. He had to have been in pain, but he was pleased with himself for having done it.

During the week of his final illness, he complained little, content to have us visit him and talk and rub his head, hand-feeding him ice and food. Michael, his boy, is still living away. His instructions were “Do what is best for Alex.” Only by keeping that as our guide did we have the courage to help Alex leave. He was an incredible dog.

I want to try to say something different about the value of animal companions. Not just the things that all animal people know and non-animal people don’t get. I want to help you understand what animal people mean when they say their pets love them and that pets are people too.

Can you grasp what it means to have a being care for you so much that they will not let go? Not just they won’t go into another room to get out of your way. Not just they won’t let you leave the house without plopping down mournfully in front of the door, or wiggling and jumping ecstatically beyond all reason when you return. And not only that they will lie down beside (or on top!) of you when you are sick in bed. No, I mean a being, a dog or a cat or even a parrot, so close to you that they cannot, they refuse to, let go and die.

Alex was the product of a chance encounter between two purebreds. His father was a golden retriever, his mother a white German shepherd. Both breeds known for loyalty, and also, unfortunately, hip dysplasia. The same genetic background that led to the condition that ended his life was also the same background that disposed him to love his family. And he did.

We had it on good authority that if we were not home, he didn’t care about protecting the house. He only protected it when we were in it. He would insinuate himself into the smallest of spaces to lay inches from our feet – resulting in more than a few trip-ups, after which he would gaze at us regretfully with those deep brown eyes. And when Michael left for college, while he never flagged in his love for the rest of us, he was a tad dimmer until Mike came home for break. Only Michael could tell you all the things Alex saw him through, or the confidences he held. I simply know that getting Alex for that 9-year-old son of ours was one of the best parenting decisions we ever made.

Alex loved us so much that in his pain, it was our visits more than the ice or food or care that gave him satisfaction and pleasure. He would turn his head – which was hard for him – just to see where we were. And, he wouldn’t let go. He could not bring himself to leave the family he loved. We had to make him go. It was, as Mike requested, the best thing for him.

Okay, I’ve not said anything animal lovers don’t already know. To those of you who profess not to understand why people want animals around or why we will go to the lengths we will to have them around, consider the depth of love it takes for anyone to accept any circumstance, any pain, any hardship, just to stay with the ones they love. That, my friends, is a love so pure that it is exemplified in only a few other instances in our lives.

We are privileged to have been so loved by Alexander. We are privileged to receive love from other animals we know or have known. These are remarkable creatures, protectors and purveyors of love and companionship, who only seek minimal return for what they give. If only we could tap into the vein of altruism that seems to flow so freely in them. If only all of us would seek, and find, its Source.


So, thank you, Alexander Graham Cookie Dog, for the lessons and the love.
RIP Big Dog. There's no one like you.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Proud to Be From Middle Tennessee

It's a new day here at Blackwater.

Michael has now graduated from the University of Rochester. He had completed his freshman year there before we came to North Carolina. It was not an easy thing for him to spend his first summer home helping us get ready to leave. Nashville will always be the home of his heart, as it will for most of us.

Nashville finds a way to be home for many of the people who leave it. No matter how wonderful the place you go to, no matter how long you live there, a piece of you always belongs to Nashville.

This was made obvious to us as we watched on the first weekend in May as dozens of places we knew and loved were drenched, flooded, even washed away by 13 inches of rain that fell over two days onto a city that is built on rock coated with a couple feet of topsoil. While nowhere near the epic destruction that was Katrina, this flood is nevertheless the most monumental and overwhelming natural disaster that has ever struck Middle Tennessee. The area of damage is the size of the state of New Jersey. About 30 people lost their lives; a modest number compared to disasters like Haiti or Katrina. 30,000 kept their lives but lost much of their belongings, including their homes. Damage, private and municipal and corporate, is estimated at over 2 billion dollars in Nashville alone. Approximately 50 other counties were affected, some to a much greater extent than Nashville.

Our Nashville house was built on a hill, and apparently the new owners bought a generator (which could run the sump pump to keep the basement clear of ground water), as that was the only sound reported in the neighborhood Sunday morning. That section was without power for 14 hours. Some people in the city had none for days. The area just down the street and down the hill from our old house was blocked off due to flooding. The river is only a few blocks away. Luckily the horses were evacuated off the Tennessee Walking Horse farm that borders the neighborhood right next to the river.

Nashville is in a basin bubbled by hills, through which the Cumberland River snakes. The first two days the flooding was due to the continuous rain; the next day it was due to the river and its tributaries trying to carry away the run-off and groundwaters that had swelled their banks. Hills became islands, and the valleys became rivers, lakes, and ponds which you entered at your peril.

Downtown was flooded; Symphony Hall (yes, Music City caters to all kinds of tunes) had 11 feet of water in a 12 foot basement-the Concert Hall was barely spared; Sound Check, a company which stores musical equipment for many of country music's finest, had its storage facility flooded, and several musicians lost their equipment; Opryland Hotel flooded to ten feet, guests were displaced to a local high school and then other hotels. And then there were the neighborhoods, people's homes. Two feet of water, four feet, eight feet, twelve. One house, half submerged, caught fire, and the occupants were rescued by a neighbor on a jet ski.

A neighbor.

In the middle of dazing surrealty, neighbors, ordinary people, were helping neighbors. And friends. And strangers.

Our daughter and son-in-law still live in Nashville. They were fine. But for several hours they didn't hear from his brother. His family was okay, but cut off from everyone by flooded roads. No word from his brother, until much later, when he finally phoned in.

He and his townhouse neighbors had been busy taking down a fence so they could get their cars out to move to safety. In the process, he fried his iPhone. My son-in-law told me he hadn't been worried. His brother was like our Michael, always in the thick of things, helping out. He has returned to helping people, and our daughter and son-in-law have also spent much of their time helping with clean-up and aid.

Since that weekend,, the city has been awash, not with floodwaters, but with people setting things right, getting back to normal, assessing damage and making plans, and making appeals for money, because this task is too monumental for them to handle alone.

They've stepped up, not only to help themselves, but more often to help out someone else. Ordinary people as well as people we might think of as too much above the ordinary to care. The country music and entertainment industry as well as many local and national corporations that either call Nashville home or do business in Nashville have already raised over 3 million dollars to help those who need it. Over $3,000,000 in response to telethons and radiothons worked by people who live there and who care about the rest of the community. From musicians who must rebuild their own homes and studios to the kids who are going to a different school because they've been displaced from their home, everyone is helping everyone.

And that's Nashville. With all its flaws, and there are some big ones, Nashville is a community where people care about each other and do something about it. It is the biggest small town in the nation. When everything is on the line, Nashville does it right.

Two of our kids, including graduate Michael, once had the opportunity to write essays for a book, "Proud to be From Middle Tennessee". I am, we are, he is, and we always will be, proud to be from middle Tennessee.

I would be remiss not to note that nearby Raleigh radio station WQDR, this year's recipient of an ACM award for Best Country Music Station, also stepped up during the first week, not only publicizing what had happened (as so many national outlets neglected to do), but organizing relief efforts. In three days they had 3 semis loaded with goods and $6000 that they personally took to Music City to deliver. Man, when it comes to places to live, can we pick 'em or what?

And one more thing, please, remember to return to Nashville. Like New Orleans, the best thing you can do is remember these cities. Visit them and their people, share their lifestyle, and enjoy yourself. Nashville is still open for business. The CMA Music Festival 2010--what used to be known as Fan Fair--is still on for June. Y'all need to come on by.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Return to Blackwater

Each year you live in a place, you change your habitat a little. People are like that. Paint a window here; plant a flower there. We’re no different.

If anything, we’re worse.

We can’t seem to leave anything alone, even if it doesn’t need change. Although, to be honest, quite a few things need attention here before we’ll be satisfied.

This year we are finishing making our island back into an island. Aerial photos have shown us that a one time the creek flowed freely around the entire thing. Then, apparently, a tree fell. It was cut into pieces and left in place to rot. Subsequently the area silted up, and it was no longer a true island. Until we started to intervene.

With the catastrophic flood that took out part of our causeway, we moved into action. We started refilling the gap between causeway and land with dirt dug up where the old stream had run. As we came across pieces of the trunk, we stood them on end, creating a sort of palisade on that side of the island, with the trench running alongside. We’ve stopped digging about three feet from breaking through to the water. And that’s how it’s stayed for about a year.

We want to get a bridge from the ‘shore’ to the island up before we break through, and that involves some quik-crete as well as some underwater concrete to finish repairing the dam part of the causeway. Both tasks need to be completed before we break through. However, we think that’s happening this summer.

We have, meanwhile, cleared the mat of vegetation that over-hung the creek and the turtle-log. Now, the turtles love this. The log gets a clear shot of sun most or the day, and we have a daily count of 8-11 turtles, all at once, sunning themselves on that log! I don’t think they’re going to be happy when we take it out, but we have to do something, because it is at water level, and we run the risk of stuff getting caught on it. So, it has to go, at least partly. We’d like to cut it and turn the pieces parallel to the banks, keeping a sun spot for the turtles but clearing the waterflow. Of course, we need a chain saw first. Somehow I can’t seem to convince anyone (myself included) that cutting an 8” log by hand is a good idea!

*update: as of 4/9/10, the decision was made to keep the log as it is. The turtles have won! We’ll just have to clear away debris as the need arises. If the log breaks, we’ll deal with it then. But we still need a chain-saw for clearing other fallen trees around the place.

We’ve seen the heron this spring, heard and seen owls, too. The lizards are venturing out, and as I was transplanting some ornamental grass, a very tiny red snake I accidentally picked up with the shovel decided he was not at all afraid of me and gazed at me with a very perturbed expression. I think it was a red-bellied snake as it was thin and only a foot long and seemed to be making a face at me with its lip, a characteristic of these snakes. There are fish in the creek, and the water is gradually completing its spring self-cleaning.

*update #2: on 4/11/10, Robin saw – and touched – a toad, and Dave saw a Luna moth waiting out the evening on a tree. It was a male who had probably hatched in the mid-day and was setting its wings prior to its first night flight. Apparently they fly after midnight.

We’ve moved most of the plants we want to save out of the garden area, and are setting about digging that up. At the same time we’re (who am I kidding here, this one’s my baby) cleaning the rose terrace of weeds and establishing new plants and setting up an herb rock garden on the sandhill (digging down to and adding loamier soil). Like I said, we can’t seem to leave anything alone, and this is just outside!

Tell us about your plans for modifying your environment—we’d love to hear.

Final update before posting: We went to the Cape Fear Valley Botanical Garden and got all sorts of ideas on things to get to plant. They’re having a plant sale on the 24th, too. But we jumped the gun and picked up a couple things from Lowe’s after we got back from the Gardens.

The photo below -- taken by Dave -- is of turtles on our turtle log. Currently the record count is 14. And, if you look at the creek water, you'll understand why we call our home Blackwater!

photo by dk minnick

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Return of the Queen

In a brief respite from the Internet world, our heroine has been spending her time involved in such pursuits as humongous writing projects that refused to free her from their clutches, squirreling away a prodigious amount of Christmas decorations, counseling the next generation, arresting and jailing the various forms of forms sneaking about the house determined to snare her in the consequences of an absent-minded mistake, all while working in her mundane jobs (mundane as in non-magical, here) at home and at large.

As she segues into a new segment of the year, she is moving on to the NEXT humongous writing projects that will, we hope, be more merciful, and away from the nefarious deeds and influences of so-called necessary paperwork designed to keep her from her true callings, family and free-form figment-making and pixilated participle production.

Stay tuned as our heroine resolves to live up to these laudatory goals and marches onward into the parallel universe to assail us with the inflexible if dubious challenge, Can you survive until April without buying Easter candy in the drugstore and eating it in secret?

Film at eleven.