Category Archives: Dogs

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.

sea-glass-on-the-beach

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.

tug

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.

moby-dick-rockwell-kent-illus

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.

SONY DSC

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).

eagles-on-ice-018

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?

jack-cu

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.

jz-tea

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.

bum-blur

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

serendipity-picture

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.

oliver-about-to

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

steintoklas-plane

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.

michael

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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