More Than Dirt

Alf and I got tired of the lunar look of our backyard, with its deep ruts and crevices and dead everything. We used to have steady visitors of cats and squirrels and noisy ravens, but lately even the butterflies do fly-overs instead of landing. So with the help of a longtime neighbor, who builds commercial nurseries for plants, we are working on a new garden together. photo (47)

I quickly sketched my idea of an English garden with pathways and gravel and flowering plants. Something that Alice in Wonderland would choose as she read and conversed with the Cheshire Cat.

I didn’t want a lawn. I was convinced of the versatility and beauty of drought-tolerant plants. I’m a survivor of too many droughts and didn’t want the demands of water guzzling green things anymore. They remind me of crying infants when they’re hungry. I don’t have time to invest in pruning, trimming and talking to them either. I hardly have time to do this with Alf.

I’ve been learning a few things about myself through this. I’m impatient. I thought the re-design would take a month. In my mind it was a simple idea without a lot of fuss. Dig up the dead lawn, and then stick some Woolly Bluecurls, Tree Anemones, and Sticky Monkey-flowers in there, and let them duke it out. I was wrong. I have no understanding of soil, bricks and greenery and what it takes to put all three together in an artful way. It’s taken all summer.

Another problem arose. My neighbor’s taste and mine are not in sync. It’s an act of high level diplomacy every time we disagree. We compromise. We change things. We discard stuff. Always smiling. It’s like a marriage. I’m sure he goes home muttering under his breath. But through it all, a glorious garden is coming into view, and the best part is we haven’t filed divorce papers. That’s the important thing. It may not be ready for the fall, and by winter it will be too cold for tea parties, but then there’s next year. The plants will be settled and feeling good about their new home. And maybe the squirrels and ravens will return chattering and cawing their approval.

When the project is complete, I expect my neighbor to be over many times, showcasing me as his still-friend and my garden to future drought-tolerant fans.

Calvin says, “I’m not so stinking happy. You took away my favorite pee spots.” beagle

Whites Not Allowed

As I was standing by my kitchen window a stripe of white flashed under the oleander bush. This was 6 am. I’m not that alert usually. But the movement caught my eye. I made inventory of the animals that normally visit my backyard. Squirrels. Raccoons. Bees. Ravens. Cats. But no white cat. Or my neighbor’s dog.

“We have a skunk in the garden,” I said.

“How do you know?” Alf said.

“I just do.”  IMG_3834

I waited. Out from the undergrowth there emerged a black nose sniffing in all directions, followed by a black head with two black beady eyes, and then the whole body. Its coat was thick and lush. God had taken a felt marker and drawn two brilliant white stripes down its back that merged at the tail. It’s nose kept moving. It scampered closer to the window. It wasn’t afraid of my standing there. Then in a blink it drew its tail up and fanned it out and sprayed the corner of my flower bed.

“What a odious creature,” I said.

“Why be so critical?” Alf said.

“He sprayed my touch-me-nots.”

“There’s a message in that somewhere,” Alf said.

“Fetch me the broom,” I said.

Alf went out to the garage, came back in with the broom, and handed it to me.

I went outside with broom at the ready and looked for the animal.

Gone. It had vanished.

I was going to sweep him up and dump him on the compost pile where he could gorge his little black heart out.

Calvin says, “No way. That skunk would have sprayed you first and you would’ve ended up in a bath of tomato juice.”  beagle

Apropos of Apps

Have you noticed the plethora of apps out there? I have. Some are crazy funny. For instance I noticed one that will reserve a parking space for you in San Francisco. Everybody knows it’s impossible to park in the city, so this is helpful. But I wonder how they do it. Have they contracted people all over the city to call in spaces they see in their areas? Like the new florists in town who have a staff of bicyclists delivering burlap-wrapped bouquets all over the city, the parking space locators are lurking in every neighborhood during commute hours.  cropped-peacock.jpg

I write haiku and sure enough there’s an app out there. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/thf-haiku/id453464896?mt=8 It’s full of the best haiku by poets from different countries. This is an inspiring app to have on my phone. It gives me a moment of creativity every day.

There’s the app for dog lovers. You can choose dogs barking, a dog simulator (no poop to pick up), a breed guide, dogs playing poker, pet care, grooming and training, and super hero pups.

I won’t go into the cat apps because they’re so many I wouldn’t have room to name them all, but one caught my attention – My Talking Tom.

And for the bird lover, there’s the Audubon Bird Guide that’s free. This comes in handy when you’re walking to work and notice a dead bird splayed at the entrance of your office building.

Calvin says, “Is there a beagle app wafting the right scents we love?” beagle

 

 

 

A Good Address

“The bird spooked my dog and she hid in the closet the rest of the day. When will you be taking it home?” Sonia said to Heather at lunch today.

“I should ask my husband. He doesn’t know yet.”

Hurry,” Sonia said.  IMG_3189

Sonia lives in a Victorian house with her husband and dog one block away from the office. A yellow cockatiel landed on the doorstep last week. It had no identification or passport. It was shivering. Nora, one of the residents, found him and brought him indoors. She bought a cage, food and toys. The bird is thriving in the kitchen with the noise of cooking and the residents talking to it everyday. At night it shares Nora’s bedroom. By the end of the month it should be talking in full sentences.

Tonight,” Heather said.

“Call me,” Sonia said.

If Heather does take it, it will have a swanky life in Tiburon with a view of water and trees to look at, but nobody to talk to. Heather and her husband work all day.

I’m hoping it stays in the Victorian with its fans who already enjoy it’s company. Sonia will just have to teach her dog bird-speak.

Calvin says, “That Burmese Mountain dog is all drama. She needs to get over herself.” beagle

Something Different

IMG_1017On my way to get coffee this morning, I ran into Leo.

He’s an American short hair cat who owns Hugo’s garage on Linden Street in San Francisco. Hugo, the car mechanic, believes he’s the owner, but he’s mistaken. Leo got there first when he moved in as a kitten. He’s now 7-years old, ancient in cat years, but he knows his rights.

At night Leo slips in through a loose brick in the wall and curls up on the hood of whatever car Hugo is fixing. He’s not picky. He doesn’t care if it’s European or American. Sometimes he gets lucky and the hood is warm from Hugo running the engine during the day. Most times though it’s cold, but at least he has a peaceful place to sleep that’s high off the ground.

As far as he knows Hugo has never connected the paw prints to him, which is a good thing because he certainly leaves  a lot of them, especially if the car is dusty.

One night he woke up with a start. His fur stood straight up, his face blushed red, and his heart thumped inside his bony chest. What was that? He heard a rattling. Then a loud crash. Leo darted from the hood and fled under the car and crashed into a wall of softness.

“Ouch!” a voice said.

Leo growled.

“What happened to your whiskers warning of objects in the way?” said the very erudite English voice.

Leo blinked a few times.

“Forgive me for startling you. I needed a place to land for the night and I missed by a few feet.”

“Who are you?” Leo said when his heart finally settled back down.

“I’m Geraldine. I’m from two stories up,” she said.

Leo noticed an outline of this creature. She didn’t look like a cat or a dog. She didn’t smell like one either.

Geraldine stood up and shook.

Oh my. Geraldine was a parrot. An African Grey with red tail feathers.  African Grey

“From two stories up? What does that mean?” Leo asked.

“I’ve escaped my confinement. It was ruining me,” she said stretching a wing that brushed Leo’s whiskers and tickled his face.

“They’ll look for you in the morning,” he said.

“I’ll be long gone, off to a Pacific island. I’ve been plotting this for years,” she said.

“That’s a long flight. Have you calculated the miles?”

“Of course. Every detail. It’s what’s kept me alive all these years.”

“How did you escape?” Leo was now interested in the story.

Calvin says, “Oh no! Not another attempt at a children’s story. Your inner child left when you got me.” beagle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Kitchen Visitor

Here’s another bird story:

I visited a friend on Labor Day.  She lives on top of a mountain in a sprawling house, with a pool and several studios. She’s an artist and bird lover. We talked about the many species of birds that inhabit her world which she feeds – woodpeckers, ravens, blue jays, sparrows and a slew of others I can’t name. I don’t know my bird kingdom.

She also owns two dogs and two horses. The occasional fox shows up at night looking for food as do many deer. IMG_0205

The next day a hawk flew into her dining room, and smashed all her vases by the windows in its attempts to flee. Without breaking into a sweat, my friend threw a blanket over it and took it outside. It stood very still for a few seconds, she said, and then flew into a nearby tree and glared back at her.

I’m calling her the bird whisperer.

I couldn’t have done that. I would have panicked, and then the bird would have flown all over the house, crashing into things, the dogs would have gone after it, leaving loose feathers and flesh all over the place, and I would have ended up calling 911 and all of us going to the ER for stitches.

Calvin says, “A hawk? You’re kidding me, right? Why don’t you take me with you on these visits!?” beagle

 

Crazy Birds

I love birds. At times they’re even funny.

I drove by a soccer field this week with a match in full play. The geese made me laugh out loud. This was clearly their field and they weren’t too happy with the invasion. So what were they doing? The were standing on the sidelines watching the game.  IMG_1978

We have woodpeckers in the neighborhood. You can hear their drilling on the telephone poles early mornings. They break for a siesta when the temperatures rise, then resume their work in the cool of the evening. One day our telephone connection will go dead. I’ll call the company on my cell phone and I’ll let them know who to arrest.

The other day a sparrow slammed into the window and crashed to the ground. It sat there with its heart beating through its chest, eyes glazed, all puffed out. We waited 30 minutes and then checked to see if it was dead. It was still alive. Another 30 minutes. We checked again. Still there. This time its beak was tucked into its wing and it was sleeping. We walked outside, it looked up at us, but didn’t move. We came back inside the house and got busy with other things. We completely forgot about it until later on in the afternoon. We checked through the window. It had flown away. I was relieved.

“What makes you think a cat didn’t eat it?” Alf said.

“No feathers,” I said.

That settled the matter.

Calvin says, “Birds are only good for one thing – sticking my nose into their chests and breathing in deeply.” beagle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rumble Under My Feet

My sister, who lives in Los Angeles, was rocked awake this morning by a 4.4 earthquake.

“Our cats levitated off the bed, helicopter style, with fur on their backs straight up. Impressive!” she said.

Then she added, “Keep those emergency supplies well stocked! This is California!”

And Kentucky, and Oregon, and a slew of other states that are not immune these days from the earth moving under people’s feet.

I grew up in earthquake country.  Floorless roller coaster

I can sense an earthquake before it hits. There’s an eerie feeling in the air, and everything grows quiet. The birds stop chirping, the weather is warmer, and oftentimes a dark cloud hovers over the city.

Not sure if that was true of Los Angeles this morning, but I wasn’t there.

As a child, as soon as the floor began to rock and roll, my father would run into the living room and hold onto the crystal vases that lived on top of the bookshelf.

My mother hovered over the parakeet as the bird flapped around the cage panting it’s little heart out.

My sister and I looked on in wild-eyed amazement at the floor until it came to a stop.

I lived through the 1989 earthquake. I was home with my children. The garage door was open and Calvin and I were checking the freezer for dinner when all of a sudden the driveway transformed into a corkscrew roller-coaster track.

Calvin’s fur stood straight up, his ears flapped back, and he bayed. Then he fled into the house.

Calvin says, “I didn’t flee. I hid under the bed covers because I was dizzy.”

beagle

Brainy-Keet

I read in this week’s news of a clever Japanese parakeet that escaped from home, and landed on the shoulder of a hotel guest in a nearby hotel. The guest had no room in his luggage, so handed the bird over to the police where he remained silent. He didn’t even plead the fifth.

For two days the bird continued his silent treatment. Then on the night of the second day, he leaked his name and address.

The cops were stunned. Here was a voluntary confession they hadn’t squeezed out of the jailbird.

Sure enough, his owner was grateful to have him back. She told the police she had learned her lesson with another bird that flew away and was never able to find. This time, after buying the bird at a pet store two years ago, she had him memorize his name and street address.

What she forgot was his social security number.

Calvin says, “Beagles wouldn’t put up with that rot. We can sniff our way back home.”

Birds of a Feather

“Your father has a hummingbird in the freezer for you,” I said to my artist son, James in church yesterday as we settled into our chairs.

“Is he dead?” asked my daughter, Miranda.

“Of course, silly,” I said.

“He smashed into the window, right?” Miranda said.

“I have a hawk in my freezer,” said James. “For when I have time to draw it.”

“See, it runs in the family, ” I said.

“One of our neighbors, who says he’s a minister in the Universal Church, admitted he kept a pelican and other birds in his freezer,” said James. “You know, for when he needs a feather for a ceremony.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. My husband, Alf shook his head and I laughed.

It takes all kinds.

I wasn’t sure which kind we were though.

It reminded me of an incident when I was a child in Mexico. My family and I went on holiday to the beach and left our parakeet, Perry with Martina, the housekeeper. When we returned home she greeted us and motioned for us to come into the kitchen. Martina opened the freezer door of the refrigerator, where we kept the ice cubes and ice cream, and extracted Perry in a plastic bag. She pulled him out for us to see. His little white and turquoise body was rigid, his eyes were closed, and his feet were curled up. She explained he had died while we were away. Pitched forward and fell to the floor of his cage. If she had left him there, he would have turned into a heap of feathers and bones by the time we got back. So she stuck him in the freezer.

I didn’t believe her story. I just knew she had killed him. Out of jealousy.

Calvin says, “If I found a dead bird on the ground, I’d stick my nose deep into its chest and breathe bird into my memory bank.”