Category Archives: Dogs

The Pleasures of the Urban Arborist

I wish I could suck it all up, absorb it and remember every single thing. Driving in the black night over the highways of New York City to get to the site. The lichen on the burly oaks. Their majesty.

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The flashy red leaf plum.

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The smell of sesame oil wafting through the Chinese neighborhood at Francis Lewis Boulevard. The 7:30 am parade of children to school, holding their parents’ hands. The identical row houses of Queens. The crone who was surprised when I approached her: “She’s a lady!” which is true, though I like feeling a little bit like a man on this job. The persistent smell of exhaust from the landscaping truck. Prickly sweetgum balls, red maple twigs, the puffs that hang swaying from the london plane.

 

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The way the root of the l.p. emphatically bulges over and raises up the sidewalk.

 

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The resident who was aghast that her neighbors had had their mammoth tree butchered: “I came back from Vegas and it was done!”

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The haunted houses of Brooklyn.

 

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Learning to differentiate between a zelkova and a linden. Bad bodega coffee. The best lunch in the world.

 

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The soapy grace of laundromats that let you pee there. Proud pit bulls. The soft detritus of leaves pushed up against the gutters. Laying my palm on a fat cherry trunk, feeling its lenticels under the pads of my fingers.

Days that are poems.

 

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And always, the juxtaposition of the natural and the manmade.

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I’ve been doing this for just under a year now.

 

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Slowdown Saturday

A knuckle-sized frog hopped straight by the woodpile.

A butterfly lit on a thistle.

Chickadees flocked around the bird feeder, making off with safflower seeds.

A long day, reading a long novel.

Excitement: Oliver thundering from the porch toward the rabbit he’ll never catch.

It grew cool, deep shadows stretched across the grass.

Then there were dinner pancakes, made with fresh-laid eggs from the good neighbor’s coop and local blueberries, soaked in a friend’s home-tapped maple syrup.

blues

“Summer afternoon, summer afternoon,” said Henry James. “To me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

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Hummingbirds, Bats and Butterflies

The Desert Discovery Guide invited us to enjoy three zones along a trail that led out from the Scottsdale Senior Center: a hummingbird nest, a saguaro and bat sanctuary, and a butterfly garden.

desert garden

I foresaw bliss ahead, an afternoon of hummingbirds, bats and butterflies, all in one swooping, fluttering place.

We just had to follow the gleaming glass-embedded arrows.

green path

They look like jelly beans, said my mother.

jellly beans

The mesquite dangled over our heads.

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Desert blooms along the way tantalized us. They would be perfect for butterflies, wouldn’t they?

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There was a monstrous twin-headed cactii. A bat home! Where were the bats?

twin saguaro

Saguaro are unlike any other plant, said my mother. All the others follow a regular pattern. Not so the saguaro.

Walk, walk, follow the arrows. All around, mallow, the peachy-orange blooms that hummingbirds love.

blue path

Not a hummingbird to be seen, though, in a nest or out. No sanctuary for bats, no garden for butterflies.

A trail to nowhere, with plants in bud, an empty picnic table, a tall metal sculpture standing alone.

sculpture

But a kindly elf had constructed an ingenious dog fountain on the dirt, activated by paw pressure.

dog bowl

We went in hope of something and came away emptyhanded, but for a handful of jellybeans and thorns. Sounds like Easter is on its way.

 

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Deep in the Novel Cave

Sshhh. I can’t hear you. I am writing a book. Or as Father John Misty said in a song last year, “I’m writing a novel, because it’s never been done before.”

I want to make amends for letting my daily posts slide a bit recently. It’s partly that I’m preoccupied by the release of Savage Girl, yes. But more relevant, perhaps, I have been deep in novel-writing, a process that in my experience tends to zone out most other activity. Like laundry, dishes, housekeeping.

My new book tells the story of a girl in 1776 New-York (back when the city had a hyphen), and I have been spending all my time in that British-occupied city.

Let me tell you what it is like in my household when Gil and I are writing books.

We wake. Let Oliver out the door. Let Oliver back in.

winsome OIiver

Coffee, lots of it. We sit down at the computer. Get up for lunch, the lightest lunch possible so that we won’t be sluggish in the afternoon. Sit down once more at the computer. Knock off in the late afternoon. Let Oliver take us for walk. Dinner. Game of Thrones reruns. A fitful, novel-haunted sleep.

Next morning, begin again.

It is boring. It is fascinating. To me, anyway, if to no one else.

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Thus quoth Somerset Maugham. And so it is really a matter of creating new rules, a new language, every single day until you get your 450 manuscript pages finished. You never know what you’re doing. It’s insecurity raised to the max, alternating with momentary blips of glee that you got something right. Got something write. Ha.

Anything outside that process is hard to fathom, hard to incorporate – the spring buds on the trees, the return of the birds, social beckonings, exercise, even cooking good food, something that for me almost never falls by the wayside.

I remember years ago attending a party with a book freshly done, wiped out, eyes bleary, toasted to a turn, and thinking that it was impossible to even have a social conversation with someone who had not just finished a book. I simply could not relate to a book-less human being.

“There is nothing to writing,” said Hemingway, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” A mite melodramatic, are we?

Once upon a time, the novelist Amy Tan’s house burned down with her manuscript in it. She didn’t have another copy. She said she had no interest in talking to anybody whose house had not burned down, she was so consumed by what had happened.

So Gil and I retreat into our little cave, better known as the Cabin. The only thing in the Cabin is, right now, a pair of computers. And a dog. (Oliver refuses incontrovertibly to fall by the wayside.) There is the odor of hyacinth in the air, a strangely chemical smell, if beautiful. And a new page to be written, with words I cannot yet imagine.

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Long Winter’s Nap

I’ve taken the polar express right upstairs to my bedroom, since my downstairs office is a good 15 degrees colder. Computer, books, coffee, check. The only thing I lack here is a canopy bed such as the kind they built during the middle ages.

medieval block print

Long curtains to pull around the sides kept you cozy.

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Sleeping might not have been so comfortable today as it involved straw-stuffed, weevil-engorged mattresses. But it was better, I think, than earlier, when the Romans laid themselves out on planks.

Roman Beds

Especially for the wealthier sort in the Middle Ages, drapery offered privacy. Nice when servants and even livestock slept in the same great hall as you did.

med bed and bedroom

I’ve always liked the Dutch version of the canopy, which often appears in Golden Age art with a cradle right near by.

Woman cradle de Hooch

And often a dog. Here there’s also an idea I’d like to bring back tonight, a warming pan into which you place hot coals, then swish it fast between your sheets before you slide between them.

I’ve frequently been tempted  to crawl right in to a bedstead in Colonial museum or historic house. Especially nice is the idea of a blazing fire right nearby.

colonial williamsburg canopy bed

I could hide. Pull the brocade, stay quiet and nobody would find me.

1800 New England bed w curtains and valance

Though they might hear me swiffing the warming pan around.

Van Cortlandt House bed

Wait until spring comes, yank back the curtains, roll out. A survivor of the cold snap of 2014.

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The Hearth of the Matter

Oh, why am I out, seeking sushi sustenance, on the coldest day of the year?

Because I have a touch of cabin fever, and because Maud all but forcibly pulled me out, plunked me on my scooter, and got me to a hot bowl of miso soup at Okinawa nearby.

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Living in the Cabin, even with central heating, we spend a lot of time in front of a fire stoked with very good hardwood. I can’t help but imagine the hearths of the past when New York was Dutch, when New Amsterdam was 15 streets and 2,000 residents. When a fire was the only heat source in a long, bitter winter.

1  1655 Manhattan View

Not much remains of that era’s built environment. But one impressive hearth specimen remains from the 1680s, twenty miles up the Hudson from Manhattan in Yonkers, New York. Now known as Philipse Manor Hall, it was then the house  Margaret Hardenbroeck built. I wrote about her, her female descendants and her home, constructed of coursed rubblestone masonry in the then-wilderness, for my history The Women of the House. Hardenbroeck and her husband Frederick Philipse had negotiated for tens of thousands of acres with the local Lenape Indians.

17  PMH South Facade

In her new home’s first-flour room — seen here to the left — with its corner view of the river and the majestic Palisades, she installed a fireplace of bricks held together by plaster fortified with horsehair. It was huge, designed in the style of fireplaces of the day, so big a person could duck inside and see the clear cobalt heavens through the brick-framed top. A tongue of flagstone extended into the room, providing a generous space to prepare meals. A slightly more genteel version of her hearth can be seen at New York’s Van Cortlandt House– the oldest house in the Bronx — built some years later, in 1748.

van cortlandt house, nyc

Despite the heat that must have escaped up the chimney, the occupants of Hardenbroeck’s house, out in the woods, all by themselves, with no neighbors, no local tavern, no welcoming church, would surely stay warm.

How do you think the Dutch in America survived the cold winters? I asked Maud as we tucked into hot coffee.

Maud sips

They wore plenty of furs, she said.

Right. It didn’t hurt that Hardenbroeck made her living as a fur trader – one of the most successful of the age. This could be a likeness of her engaging in her business, beaver hat set squarely on her head.

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She traveled from the island of Manhattan up the Hudson to Albany to acquire beaver pelts from Native American trappers and returned south to ship the furs off to Holland, sometimes traveling on board to keep an eye on her merchandise. She made a fortune, more than enough to build her solid Yonkers pied a terre and to clothe herself in furs as well. She was a crack businesswoman and I always liked to see her signature at the bottom of contracts.11 Margarets SignatureShe could definitely drape herself in all the furs she wanted to, like this well-cloaked London fashionista from the era, portrayed by Wenceslas Hollar. The mask is to keep her complexion fresh.

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Something odd struck me about Hardenbroeck’s fireplace when I first saw it. Most Dutch hearths have a decorative surround of Delft tiles.

Delft Tile 15

Staid Dutch burghers usually employed tilework in pure white or sober biblical allegories in safe shades of blue. Hardenbroeck’s, on the other hand, was framed by painted tiles that she might have found especially chic, with exotic pictures in a stylish minor-key tint called manganese that resembled the magenta-blue-brown of a fading bruise. Off shades called “sad” persisted as high fashion in the clothes of this period, denoting not necessarily gray or black but muddier earth tones, whether russet, plummy red, or the golden brown called ‘tawney.’ Even some pewter plates received the descriptor “sad-colored.”

Hardenbroeck chose a theme  with some Delft craftman’s cracked vision of the wilden of the New World: heavy-lidded hermaphrodites frolicking on animal feet, breasts bulging, carrying fruits that resembled ripe melons and accompanied by old-style griffins. These images reflected the era, which paired intensive high-seas exploration and scientific curiosity with tenacious ancient beliefs in monsters.

PMH Fireplace Tile

Artists and writers without firsthand knowledge of lands abroad still portrayed the scenery of America as crowded with Cyclopes and unicorns and other odd beasts, like those of Fortunio Liceti, who was sharing his creations with the world at around the same time.

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The fanciful renderings on Hardenbroeck’s hearth tiles offer an ironic counterpoint to the house’s site, centered among the ghosts of ancient native villages whose all-too human inhabitants had perished of fevers, plagues and violence. New Amsterdam, where Hardenbroeck spent most of her time, was relatively cosmopolitan – for America. These were people, not only Dutch but a range of nationalities, who had braved all sorts of dangers to settle here, and now they lived clustered together in relative safety. They even bartered and socialized with the local Indians, when they weren’t making war on them.

But did the fur trader’s hearth fires keep her warm against the seventeenth century equivalent of our polar vortex? We have to assume they did. Folksy colonial historian Alice Morse Earle quoted a poem in one of her many books about the Dutch in Manhattan.

Shut in from all the world about,

We sat at the clean-winged hearth about,

Content to let the north wind roar

In baffled rage at pane and door,

While the red logs before us beat

The frost-line back with tropic heat;

And ever, when a louder blast

Shook beam and rafter as it passed,

The merrier up its roaring draught

The great throat of the chimney laughed,

The house dog on his paws outspread

Laid to the fire his drowsy head…

Hardenbroeck kept her up-river lodgings until her death in 1691, at the age of 54, and the house stayed in the family for a century after that, until the loyalist Philipses were driven off their estate after the Revolution, back to England. Hardenbroeck used the house at Yonkers throughout her career-intensive years as a stopover on her way to and from the fur fair at Albany, storing goods in a dry, paved cellar, no doubt happy to warm her hands by a blazing fire for a couple of days en route.

The sushi has arrived.

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Cold fish on a cold day, how nice. We are fond of our fresh fish, here along the Hudson in the winter of 2014. No doubt, the Dutch denizens of New York also appreciated their seafood more than 300 years ago. After all, the harbor at New Amsterdam was stocked with foot-long oysters.

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From the Chimney With Care

They’re waiting. Waiting in plain sight, hung from the chimney with care, assembled of felt and yarn and sparkles. Everyone in the house for the holidays is an adult now, but still we hang our stockings.

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The practice of hanging a Christmas stocking… why hang a sock to collect treats, or put out a shoe as people do it in some cultures? I’ve never found a satisfactory answer, but I always associate it with the idea that your dog always wants to chew up your shoe, because he loves you and that’s the part of you that smells most like you.

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He knows not what he does. That’s what I’ve always heard. So Santa is looking to find the part of you that is most you when he tracks down the stocking you hang with care.

1900 stocking

Auntie, my mother’s aunt, made her converted sweet potato shed in Greenfield, Tennessee into a cozy home. She had a tiny room that never failed to impress me with its huge stash of craft materials, from buttons to calico to giant skeins of acrylic yarn.

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Auntie knitted, she made lace, she crocheted, she sewed. She was simply a craft adept. And she loved kids, though she never had any of her own, referring to her home economics students at Dresden High School as my children. My Christmas stocking and those of my brothers were Auntie’s creations.

auntie stocking

Last year I learned to knit a sock. I thought I could use it as a Christmas stocking if it ever got long enough. It didn’t. It was orange anyway. Luckily I still have my old beauty from Auntie.

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For some reason people have competed over the years to set a record for the biggest Christmas stocking. That seems odd to me, as a Christmas stocking is by nature pleasantly ordinary of stature, somewhat roomier than an actual sock that fits your foot but no larger as that would be somehow… greedy. One time recently The Children’s Society in London organized a stocking of 6,000 squares of red knitting, as long as three doubledecker buses. I hear that it weighed the equivalent of five reindeer and bulged with with toys for the poor.

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If you have a stocking that is yours and has always been yours, you are lucky. A personal stocking. Gil’s stocking reverted back to him somewhere along the way, emerging out of the Wisconsin Christmas Box, perhaps when someone noticed he was on the verge of entering a second childhood and needed all the treats he could get. He also inherited the Christmas ornaments his mother made for him, one for every year of his young life. Most of them seem to be assembled of toothpicks in some form or another.

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Gil was the youngest of five, and that made it important that the old lady brought in to produce his stocking should knit the letters of his name in a bold block print around the top edge. He wanted his fair share of candy on Christmas morning.

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Gil remembers the fascination he felt for the tiny plastic gewgaws that decorated his stocking.

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The little drummer boy with his big sisters in this 1890 shot could actually be Gil.

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Maud must have been around three when I decided to make her a personalized stocking. I remember carefully picking out the supplies at a crafts store near her grandparents’ house, where we were staying for the holidays. With enough glue, red, white and green felt and some pompoms would surely make something. And it did.

maud stocking

For some reason a curious mouse found its way onto the toe – maybe I was thinking of the Nutcracker.  The stocking had hearts and bow-tied presents and glitter, plus the letters of her name, all the trimmings my little sprite would want to see hanging near the fireplace. The girl herself looked all grown up. It was as if I was looking into the future. The stocking, I knew, would be a keeper.

hope your stocking

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Hudson River Haunts and Hustlings

For my whole life I’ve lived up and down the Hudson River, in Hastings, in Ulster Park, in Ossining. New York City crouches on its shoreline, and I lived there for twenty years. The Hudson happens to be my favorite river in the world – although to be precise it is an estuary.

I’ve written about its history, in both nonfiction and fiction — about the rubble-stone house of Margaret Hardenbroeck, in Yonkers, about Blandine berry-picking on a Manhattan bluff, and other people whose lives I placed against this magical backdrop. But I haven’t just told stories about a place. I’ve lived it.

I was thinking about some of the things I’ve actually done along the Hudson’s reaches. What helped me in my imaginings. How the Hudson Valley has informed my life.

I’ve taken a canoe out through ancient marshes at the river’s edge. Had picnics along its shores. Dined in fine restaurants. Rode a bike. Collected beach glass.

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Kissed. Thrown sticks for a swimming dog. Gone swimming myself. Taken the train, that glorious route down the river’s eastern flank. Snoozed on that train and missed my stop.

Watched fisherman pull out catfish. Careened along the Henry Hudson Parkway above the river in a series of second-hand cars. Visited a yacht house in winter, warmed by a wood stove. Hitched a ride on a tugboat.

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Walked the George Washington Bridge–it sways terrifically. Learned to hula hoop.

Peter hula

Heard blasting rock and roll concerts on ancient piers. Wandered a factory ruin from the nineteenth century. Did I mention throwing a stick for the best cattle dog in America?

Sugar

Saw fireworks explode up from every little Catskills town down the river’s length one Fourth of July. We sat on an escarpment far, far above the river coursing below.

As an adolescent, I read classic books in a library overlooking the water.

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Later, bought paperbacks at library sales. Talked about my own books in library all-purpose rooms.

Watched my three-year-old get gleefully wet under a sprinkler at a city park in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Devoured garlicky Dominican mofungo at a lunch counter a block from the water in Sleepy Hollow.

Hiked the Breakneck Ridge Trail, which rises 1,250 feet in a three-quarter mile stretch and hovers over the river as it winds. Experienced vertigo and rapture at one and the same time.

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Admired thousands of sunsets.

Praised the mighty Palisades. Daydreamed. Considered the water’s surface, olive green, deep black, cobalt, covered in crashed-together ice floes. Seen eagles ride the ice floes (an untruth – I’ve always wanted to, it’s in my bucket, but I never have managed it).

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Admired art on walls with river views. Experienced the unicorn tapestries, in awe. Taught children to make art. Touched cattails. Bought hanging plants from Garden Club ladies. Watched my teenager kill it in soccer games on a field watched over by the Palisades. Stood on the porch of Washington Irving’s stucco cottage, Sunnyside, imagining the 1840s river the way he must have seen it, appalled when the railroad went through.

sunnyside_and_hudson-300x225Skipped stones, clumsily. Never could master that. Threw a stick for a dog. Considered the white-tailed deer swimming across to New Jersey – diaries describe the phenomenon in the seventeenth century. A long time back, but a drop in the bucket for the old, bountiful Hudson.

What have you done along the Hudson–or your own personal favorite river? Leave a comment, will you?

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Thank You for Reading

I am thankful.

This is a post about this blog.

At Thanksgiving, in a lot of families, a blessing is performed before the turkey comes on in its golden, crispy glory. The blessing consists of going around the table with every guest sharing some thing they are especially grateful for. On the occasions I’ve taken part in this ritual, I’ve sometimes had to squelch the urge to say something slightly comical or snarky. I don’t know why, perhaps because the whole thing seemed so self serious. Real thanks seem quieter, more internal, perhaps.

Now, with a few days before us until we’ll be stuffed with stuffing, with a clear head, I want to be serious.

I am grateful, deeply grateful, to those of you who read this blog.

When people ask what my site is all about, I say different things. It’s called Blog Cabin, and it’s about living in a circa 1800 home in a thoroughly modern world, and the time travel that allows for. Sometimes I call it a personal magazine. A diary. A cultural commentary. It’s about the past as a living, breathing entity. All about history and art and nature and literature… An author blog, as I have one novel about to come out and one just in the rearview.

What it really is, is playtime. Writing books, of course, is hard work. (If you’re doing it right.) Writing this blog has given me a chance to dabble in the things that absorb me in my book writing life, but on a more finite scale, with pleasure at the foremost – yes, history and art and nature and literature and… a pogo stick championship?

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It was hot July and the contestants soared. You could taste the adrenaline.

Writing for you has given me a reason to go on adventures that you might not take, even if you had the chance. Or perhaps you would, like my search for an infant saguaro cactus at a botanical garden in Scottsdale, Arizona, with a beaming guide, but you couldn’t get there that day.

desert-gardener

I’ve taken myself to a Victorian waltz class and tea.

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To a Broadway disco-play, and to a euphoria-inducing Brahms recital. And to a dramatic dance performance en plein air, at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center.

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I’ve plumbed the depths of the 20-something psyche, because I have a young adult close to my heart. Instagramming is their life.

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They’re fascinating animals, as are husbands, and mine hitchhikes along with me from time to time.

As are dogs. Mine is inscrutable, but adds flavor to the mix.

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And writers.  I’ve loved writing about Gertrude Stein.

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I’ve shared many favorite recipes, like the one for Marcella Hazan’s braised pork in milk.

Observed motorcycle pirates on the loose in NYC. With some history about pirates intertwined, of course.

two-pirates

A rowdy pig festival in upstate New York.

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Explored a local farm on an enchanted evening, just as dusk fell.

fuschia-flower

Learned about the power of graffiti at the late, great 5Pointz. Got my leg cast tagged there, too.

colorful-paint

And witnessed the unlikely beauties of slime mold in a pristine nature preserve.

slime

It’s been my pleasure to gather these treasures and offer them to you, and your great generosity has been receiving them from me. So thank you. I’m looking forward to many more adventures.

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The Myths of Time

I love that building, said my friend John, a publisher with a reliably elegant sense of taste. It was designed by Louis Kahn. The Yale Center for British Art, in New Haven, Connecticut, is housed in a sleek shell of matte steel on Chapel Street, the bustling main drag of the town. It was the architect’s last major commission, completed after his death in 1974. It’s an interestingly modern container for the almost exclusively older works of art within, lovely canvases of fetching ladies, bewigged lords, and big-eyed colonial children with their colonial pets. Mrs. Abington as Miss Prue in Congreve’s Love for Love, completed by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1771, is a good example.

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You’ll also find lots of animals, horses and dogs mainly. My old friend Betsy, who lives nearby, told me she has spent serious time sunk in an overstuffed leather chair in the high-ceilinged gallery admiring the zebra painting. A rather famous zebra painting, made by George Stubbs in 1763, when a zebra would have seemed about as exotic to Europeans as a unicorn.

stubbs-zebra

We couldn’t help but be stopped just inside the glass doors as we were coming in by a much more modern work. What is that? I said to Wendy, puzzling it out. A minotaur? A centaur?

centaur

No, she corrected  me, a centaur is a man on top, horse on the bottom. This was a horse on top. I liked it a lot, it was so rough and raw, like something you’d see in a dream.

Turned out that Foal, sculpted of painted bronze, was one of seven works by the British artist Nicola Hicks which had been installed as a special exhibit in the Yale Center. The mythic is central to her work. As part of the show Hicks selected pieces from the museum’s collection to serve as counterpoints to her own. The British tradition of animal imagery intertwined with the contemporary creatures in a dynamic, charged way.

The painting chosen for the display that I found most affecting was William Barraud’s A Couple of Foxhounds with a Terrier, the Property of Lord Henry Bentinck. Hicks has said she recognizes Baraud’s profound understanding of how the “social structure” unites the animals depicted. It’s about the independent dogness of dogs, despite the humans that may believe they own them lock stock and kibble.

dog painting

One sculpture reflected on Aesop’s fable about a donkey found in the forest wearing a lion’s skin, which ultimately results in the donkey being exposed as a fool.

donkey

Nicks’ Who was I Kidding, created of plaster and straw, shows the poor donkey with the skin thrown across its back. It bears some resemblance to another Stubbs canvas in the museum, A Lion Attacking a Horse. The horse in that conception feels not shame but blind fury.

horse-attacked-by-a-lion.jpg!Blog

Later, over tea, I noticed that Wendy had bought a postcard at the gift shop. She had out her small, purse-size sketchbook and a pencil.

wendy drawing

Wendy’s a musician, an actress, an astute psychotherapist. She was drawing the donkey, tracing the gentle lines of its hanging, shamed head. She had taken the experience with her, as we do all myths that have power.

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Historical Pork

I brought the porker totem home to a curious canine, though Oliver didn’t seem to feel the swine deserved an aggressive posture.

oliver:pig

And though I debated on the drive back, porker clunking in the trunk, what Gil’s reaction would be – would he object to the creature because of its cost or size or general mien – he too was delighted by it. One of his favorite song lyrics, he said, was Dylan’s “I’m no pig without a wig/I hope you treat me kind.” Hard to hold anything against a grotesquerie that cost 24 dollars.

whole pig

We decided the painted plaster pig with the voluptuous nose must have at one time enticed customers in a store or eatery. The woman in the antiques shop felt sure he had a former life as a piggy bank, but no piggy bank is thigh high. I snapped him up quickly, before anyone else could. If anyone else would.

pig eye

My eye for art is my own. I’m the one who finds things at estate sales after all the “good stuff” has been bought, after everyone else goes home. In our storage locker the other day I went through our collection of two-dimensional pieces, some by friends, that the Cabin walls can’t accommodate. Space is extremely limited and 250-year-old logs hard to pound nails into.

I did hang a Currier & Ives print, an antique spoof showing a nineteenth century woman with a braid dangling to her knees, a cigarette and a riding crop. “The Girl of the Period” reads the legend on the only slightly stained image. The friends who gave me this know me well.

currier

I do like things that are a bit stained, worn, faded or torn. Things that have the spirit of the vernacular in them. That show the human hand. It’s not outsider art when it comes from your own relative. One vintage artwork in my house was the creation of my great-grandmother Lockie Hillis, three landscape postcards she collected on a trip to the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, which she mounted in a wood-burned frame (she herself burned the wood).

Lockie

I greatly appreciate handmade signs, but I’ll only collect them for free. Our best sign, hanging outside on the porch wall, we collected off a telephone pole next to a cornfield on a midwestern two-lane.

cherish

The one above the fireplace makes an ironic comment on Oliver and the other beloved dogs that have lived with us.

no dogs

Another perhaps more frightening comment, the mask hanging above the wooden sign. Leather of some kind, it comes from Mexico, and has dropped a few eyelashes since I picked it up 30 years ago. Gil has been known to put it on for Halloween and terrify small children.

mask

The Cabin makes a perfect backdrop for a painted work like the one my artist friend Sandra bequeathed, titled “Cairo in the Garden,” named for a beloved tabby we owned with seven toes on each paw.

cairo

We don’t frame it because it doesn’t need a frame to show off its fresco-like charms.

Back to the pig without a wig. Where to exhibit his bulbous corpus? I think he needs to stand by the door, sticking out his tongue in welcoming us. Or by the hearth, though I wouldn’t want his fat to singe. Perhaps the kitchen would be the most logical, given the amount of bacon this household consumes. In a corner, where we can observe him observing us.

While I consider it I’m going to give my attention to a National Audobon Society “miniature chart” showing Twigs of Common Trees.

Twigged Out

Here we have 62 ink-drawings of buds, bark, leaf scars and pith. The total effect is exquisite and I’d like to do the impossible: find it wall space. I fished Twigs out of storage and Gil said, You want that? Yes, as a matter of fact I do.

pig nose

What this jolly pig reminds me of most of all is old-fashioned signage, when shops had a giant shoe or pair of eyeglasses out front, bespeaking loud and clear what they had to offer. That’s a history dating back to the middle ages, but you still find pigs today decorating barbecue joints. That might be this one’s origin. Oink.

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Making Change

It’s a good day for working. I just finished proofing the third pass Savage Girl galleys. Found some periods and commas that persisted perversely in the manuscript despite everyone’s best efforts. A few tiny, tiny changes make all the difference. If. You. Ask. Me.

Yes, it’s a good day for scrunching your forehead and working. Especially if your work is being on the lookout for deer.

scrunch

But isn’t it a better day for rolling in the grass? Those fallen leaves add a toasty texture to a run-of-the-mill back scratch.

O rolling

Closer to waist level, the sun warms the fall berries. Where do they come from? The landscape has changed. All of the sudden they’re there.

red berries

Then there are the last of the morning glories, though they don’t know it. The deer have already had at most of their leaves. Soon the blooms will fold up their tent.

glories

They mirror the arching sky. Contrails: someone’s going someplace.

blue sky

The morning glories unfurl for just a single day. Their only work is being beautiful.

This morning I revamped the front page of this site, and I invite you to visit. To improve is to change, said Churchill. To be perfect is to change often. I don’t know that I change often enough or dramatically enough, but I’d like to try something new.

For one thing, I’m settling on an up-to-date author photo. Not quite sure, but this one’s a strong possibility.  I like it because I seem bemused. Which I often am.

IMG_8745 revised

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Melancholy and Industry

On it comes, fall, my favorite season (do I say that every season?). In yoga class today, when we did the tree posture, holding up our arms and crooking our legs, I looked in the mirror and everyone actually looked like bare-branched autumn trees. A human forest.

Things to do to jump into fall. Pull the late season carrots, whiskery and somewhat cork-like.

carrots

At the same time, admire the mess the deer have made denuding the garden. How did they pull all those bell peppers from the plants so delicately, leaving the plants intact? They left the one sunflower standing, hanging down its giant brown head.

sunflower hanging

Make plans to attend a show – we don’t do the theater too much but Romeo and Juliet is rolling onto the boards for the hundredth time, this time with movie cutie Orlando Bloom, and we’re gonna hoof it to Broadway. Maybe I’ll even be able to pull on some shoes, with a healed, streamlined foot.

romeo

What else, in fall, what are the timeworn threads of coziness you begin to weave back into your life? Put fresh sheets on the bed, the flannel ones. Shake out the comforter that’s been shoved in the closet all summer. Burrow in.

Read the first college paper of the year, if you’re lucky enough to have a student nearby. Maud’s concerns a melancholy subject she’s been attacking for her anthro major, the proliferation of descansos, roadside shrines in New Mexico. Her photos of the sites are filled with a lonely beauty.

maud shrine

The comic Louis C.K. plumbed the topic of melancholy on Conan O’Brien recently and I loved what he said about the “fall back to school depression feeling,” how he was driving in his car, listening to a Springsteen tune on the radio, getting that “forever empty” feeling, that “knowledge that it’s forever and you’re alone.” It’s a mental state I remember so well from college, and also bouncing back with insane gladness, that as Louis said “you’re lucky to have sad moments.”

Louis-CK-hosting-SNL-fun-Saturday-Night-Live-Hurricane-Sandy

Two things from college that I still resonate to all these years later, melancholy and industry.

So in fall, when it gets cold and lonely, make something. Get out the trusty sewing machine, unearth some ancient fabric, make a simple pillow cover. One that Oliver will cuddle up to.

dog pillow

Read a new book, or revisit an old one. It’s a good time to take another look at The Catcher in the Rye – sure, an old chestnut, but with a Salinger book and movie coming out a good time as any to see if the author’s a genius or a shnook. Or both. And he knows from melancholy.

Rye_catcher

Nourish yourself. I’m stewing beef with onions, those garden carrots, garden onions and beer, not wine, because that’s what I have in the house. And fall’s about what you have in the house.

pillow fabric

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A Catskill Idyll

I really ought to get out more. Even if out means going from a cabin to a cottage with an adjacent bungalow as I did this weekend.

It was the gray, cool weather of late summer, more like fall. The Catskill Mountains. The cottage had a quaint disposition, the pet decorating project of antiquarian friends of friends. Charm bloomed in corners. On side tables, one of which held a seal enraptured with a ball.

seal lamp

Windowsills offered various small collections.

small nest

Dramatically tarnished old mirrors lined the walls.

tarnished mirrors

We brought zinnias, butterscotch bars.

zinnias

Neil, the host, grilled chicken over wood. There was sweet aged bourbon for some. For me,  mango lemonade. A funny kind of tea, milky oat tops. Was it restorative in some way or just cut up grass in bags? Hard to say but worth gently debating. What music should we listen to? Everything sounded good.

milky oat

A fire glowing in the stove, a healthy stack of wood.

fire

Conversation about our kids growing up, finding their feet. About ourselves,  still finding our feet. Will we ever find them? Monopoly and pet play.

dog play

The shaggy, gloomy, romantic Catskills offered up their forests and creeks.

roots

Girdled, Neil the arborist says is the term for roots that entwine themselves like this. What about those trees, though, that entwine themselves as though in love? No special name, they just are.

entwined trees

Mushrooms gleamed against the mulch.

white mushroom cu

When the woods were so delightful we couldn’t stand any more, we took a drive through the weathered local community, Livingston Manor. An ancient graveyard, simply marked, appeared on Creamery Road.

st aloysius

Plain, as was the cemetery’s groundskeeping shed.

caretaker's

Something else simple appeared out of nowhere — a staunch old wood covered bridge dating to the late 1800s.

covered bridge

Sometime in the long afternoon I saw my friend Suzanne sitting by the fire, taking a pensive break from all the charm, the activity, the pets and children. The yap of conversation.

suzanne pensive

I thought of one of my favorite poems, perfect any day but especially for this place, the person, the moment: When You Are Old, by W.B. Yeats.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

 

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

 

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

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Crushes on Crutches

At the movies I saw a woman on crutches. A young, pretty woman in a color-block sundress. As I watched, she hopped around the serve-yourself beverage kiosk, assembling her ice, her soda and her straw, putting the whole drink together before her boyfriend politely carried it away for her.

I saw her next swinging her way into the ladies’ room. Into a regular stall! Not the one with the wheelchair icon I was struggling to enter with my kneeling scooter The Bloke. I washed my hands, she washed her hands, the difference being that she was cool as a cuke, graceful and weightless, not perspiring and puffing like me. Probably about 24 years old.

At the film line she was waiting, as was I, to go in. We shared war stories. A motorcyle accident, she said.

anime

A little piece of the bike flew off into her ankle. The doctor had her in her cast for six weeks. It was a little difficult, she told me, because she lives up four floors and the laundry’s in the basement. But she’s making do okay. Her bike? Came out of the accident perfectly fine. She couldn’t wait to get back on it.

By the next morning my conversation with motorcycle girl had begun to percolate. I had been proud of myself for managing The Bloke so well. But now I had crutches envy. How do you make the best of this particular situation, a bum foot, and do it with some measure of equanimity and grace? It helps if you are an athletically gifted person of 24, of course. I wondered, how do you take your lumps and move forward, albeit with a cast on your foot that feels like a stiff leather ice skate with no sock? A little sand drizzled in for good measure.

Recently I asked my brother Peter for blog ideas since I knew I’d be less able than usual to go on gallivants and cover eclectic cultural happenings like I usually do. Why don’t you just catalogue all the stuff in your house, he suggested.

I feel, though, that I have already catalogued some of the things I like best. My vintage cookbook-pamphlet collection, for example.

salad book

The heirloom lace created by my foremothers.

lace cu 2

I don’t know that I’ve ever indexed the bones that have surfaced from the marsh in front of the Cabin, mainly carried helpfully to us in Oliver’s mouth. We joke that he is trying to assemble to assemble a full deer skeleton.

bones

Or the skins that have been sloughed off by so many snakes just to the south of the house.

snakeskin

But, like motorcycle girl, probably I do get to a few things every day, even now, move my constrained life ahead bit by bit. Take some action, even if I’m not swinging effortlessly on my axilla mobility aids. Thus, a catalogue of 10 actions taken today.

1. A shower bath, my leg encased in a plastic bag, with streaming hot water and a worn-down bar of soap a revelation.

2. A knitted row of  angora, hopefully without a slipped stitch.

angora

3. Perused some passages in Travels in North America, a volume published by Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm in the 1760s. In it he expounds on such scientific matters as the way bears kill livestock in Philadelphia: by biting a hole in a cow’s hide and inflating it until it dies.

racoon1

4. Stumbled upon a recipe for Warm, Cheesy Swiss Chard and Roasted Garlic Dip. As soon as I’m up and around the kitchen again!

5. Checked out the Thanksgiving episode of Orange Is the New Black.

o-ORANGE-IS-THE-NEW-BLACK-facebook

How many programs have a cast that is 99 percent female, let along with a heavy lesbian slant? Mindblowing.

6. Pushed The Bloke to the sushi bar at the back of a Japanese restaurant and had the treat of watching the chef halve a bright pink, yard-long salmon with finesse, season it with rock salt and layer it in a tub with its perfect filet brothers.

7. Scootered through a supermarket I usually despise as being too plastic but which today looked cheerily kaleidoscopic after two weeks of grocery deprivation.

market

8. Brought home the beer in The Bloke’s handy basket.

kaliber

9. Visited my garden for the first time since the surgery. The collards were begging for a simmer with a pork hock.

collards

10. Visited with Oliver on his turf, the front yard, for a change, rather than him visiting with me on the couch.

oliver rolling

I’m getting back onto that couch now and elevating my aching foot. Ahhhh. But… I wonder what motorcycle girl is up to. On her anime-sparkle-titanium-neon crutches. Rocking the lead vocals with her hip hop crew? Bottle-feeding a new litter of rottweiler-lab pups? Baking a dozen loaves of vegan meatloaf for her closest friends? Or just getting ready to fly down those four flights and go out to the movies again? Because she can do just about anything she wants. As can I.

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