Archive for July, 2008

Is it a vole…or is it a rat?

July 28, 2008

Our last morning on the island, Jeanine was unloading the dishwasher, Martha was organizing the recycling, and I was folding dried bedding. We were cleaning up our traces of a week’s habitation in Ron’s house. The sky was leaking fat dollops of rain, the first rain we had seen in several weeks. Our stay on the island had been full of sunshine and miraculous sunsets. The day’s rain made it easy to leave such idyllic a setting, to return to our suburbian lives rife with traffic and the roar of lawnmowers.

I was mentally reviewing a magical sighting of ravens winging overhead and calling to each other with their stones-dropping-into-water knocking sounds, when Martha’s urgent call beckoned.

“Quick, you guys, get over here, RIGHT NOW!!”. She had her nose plastered against the sliding glass door of the dining room and was gazing fixedly toward the outdoor bird feeding station. Jeanine and I converged and pressed our noses to the glass as well, eager to see some exotic new bird. Some rosy headed finches were chasing each oher around the feeder. A rufous-sided towhee muscled its way to the preferred area of the platform and put the finches to flight into the surrounding hedge.

“It’s the same old birds,” complained Jeanine brandishing a fistful of mixed cutlery. “Nothing new here. I’m going back to my labours.”

“Stay a moment and watch,” suggested Martha, “Just keep looking at the bottom of the feeder post.” We stayed put and watched, waited.

Soon a low rodent slinked out of the shadows at the bottom of the hedge, made a run to the base of the feeder, curled its body into a ball and proceeded to chow down on fallen seeds. It had cute round ears and button black eyes, a rounded head and fawn-coloured fur. I opened the sliding door, whereupon the beastie scurried back into the safety of the hedge. It flashed a longish tail.

“Eeuw!!” exclaimed Jeanine. “It’s a rat!!!” She slammed shut the sliding door. We stood on the inside, gazing out to get more sightings of this rat.

The animal made several forays into the grass around the bird-feeder’s base. It sat there munching away, undisturbed by the birds above, and by us shut safely behind glass doors. At every opportunity I studied its movements and conformation. While it shared rodent characteristics with rats, it looked distinctively different, shorter and rounder in body and with a compressed face that reminded me of a gerbil’s. Its eyes were bigger and more button-like, not beady like a rat’s.

“That might be a vole,” I conjectured. “There are voles living out in the wilds here. While it kind of looks like a rat it is too rotund, and its belly is a lighter colour.”

“Pshaw,” said Martha. “You are half blind, G. You can’t mean to tell me you can actually see it has a lighter underside. It’s got to be a rat!”

“Well, I can see flashes of beige.” I asserted. “Go look it up on Ron’s computer.” Yep, we were on an island, but the internet has extended its hooks even here, even if it was only by dial-up.

“We don’t have time to check,” said Martha, peevish. “We have to get our garbage down to the transfer station. I still say it’s a rat.”

“Yuk!” uttered Jeanine. “Just think, here we have been lolling around in the mornings and evenings with all the sliding doors open, and these rats may have taken up residence inside the house. What will Ron think when he comes home and finds his house infested with rats?”

“Well,” said Martha in her reasoning manner, ” he may rethink feeding birds outside. I had to stop doing that at home when I saw rats that were getting fat on fallen seed from my bird-feeder.”

“No kidding, you guys.” I repeated. “There are such things a voles. It’s probably just a vole who has discovered an easy source of food.” I opened the sliding door and returned to my chore of folding sheets and towels.

Here I’m back home and after greeting Rumpole and having a coffee with him, after playing with Jessica and giving her a dog cookie, after picking up the General and ruffling his fur, I repaired to Google the flora and fauna of the island we had been staying on. Sure enough, there are both voles and rats on that island. But after looking the photographs I am only halfway convinced that what we saw there was a vole. How can I be sure, me with my poor vision?

But, whatever it was, it was doing a fair job of fattening itself for the winter ahead, and also had secured itself a source of ready food for the leaner months. This is all to the good, providing it was a vole and not a rat. Ron may not be happy to have a whole population or brown rats he is feeding in perpetuity. And heaven help him if they take up domicile in his garage or basement. He will be inundated.

Surely he must be aware of that possibility. Maybe its us squeamish suburban matrons who need to take  deep breath and relax about the whole thing. Maybe I need to convince myself that it was just an innocent vole who we had sighted. Who knows?

A break from blogging…

July 19, 2008

I shall be away from the computer for a week. Going to an island, for some pleasurable distraction and change of place. Although it wont be a desert island, it is small, home to sheep and lavender farms, with great places to walkabout. Looking forward to some fresh fish meals, the eagles coasting on air currents, and the liquid glottal calls of ravens in the mornings. G

“Dear Heloise…”, er, I mean, “Dear Crabby…”

July 16, 2008

Oh, but we are a world of seekers after information, on how to or not do things, always on the hunt for new, novel or tried and true solutions for our many questions. Having access to a computer is a contemporary equivalent of being in possession of an encyclopaedia set for loftier bits of knowledge, of owning a book on household hints or consulting the “Dear Abby” column in the morning newspaper.

Why, just the other day, I googled some new/old knowledge on how to make my own laundry soap, whipped up a simple concoction of three ingredients and now am happily laundering away with nary a phosphate in the wake of such domestic activity. Can an old dog learn new tricks? You betcha! Especially when having a PC, an electronic oracle, to consult.

To my surprised delight, while perusing the search engine terms used to find my blogs for morning amusement, I find I have now joined, like many other blogger beavering away in obscurity, the illustrious company of “Dear Ann…Dear Abby, Dear Heloise… and er, Dear Martha”. It seems that some of my trove of lore and wisdom is sought after by a few innocents pounding away on their computer keyboards.

How have they stumbled upon my blog? Naturally, via search engine terms, which are the efficient substitute to flipping through volumes of encyclopaedias. As a giving sort of person, I shall humbly attempt to oblige these seekers. But first, I need to have a catchy ‘nom de plume’. Aha! Shall it be “Dear Crabby”? Sort of suits my persona rather well, according to Rumpole and other intimates. So “Dear Crabby” it shall be. Has a ring to it, a famous sort of ring?

First question I shall address is:  “how to avoid chafing armpits in ocean” ?????

Dear Sun, Surf and Sex;

Your question caused me to give a vigorous scratch to my scalp. Even though I search my memory, back, back into the mists of time, I cannot recall an occasion when I ever chafed my armpits in the ocean. But, of course, I am not in the habit of trying to remove armpit hair-growth by rubbing up against coral reefs, which I am told by knowledgeable sources is not a recommended method of depilation. Besides possibly hurting, this action might cause one to develop a severe infection, if perhaps the blood released into the ocean by chafing did not at first attract the attention of man-eating sharks. I suggest you don’t expose your armpits to chafing whilst playing in or near the ocean. Please exercise caution if you want to avoid unnecessary drama in your life.

                                                                                                     Crabby

The second question, even more baffling, is : “cigarette ash for facials”….????

Dear Ex-Smoker;

Please give up on the idea that cigarette ash is an ingredient in facial unguents. The “friend” who gave you the recipe is not your friend, but a hardened enemy. She was perhaps likening your complexion to the surface of a walnut dining-room table which has been besmirched by numerous white water rings and spots. This is definitely hostility being aimed at you. You may not know that one can get rid of white water rings on varnished wood surfaces by mixing a salve comprised of butter and cigarette ash. However, delicate human skin cannot well survive the application of such concoction and I highly recommend against it. Suck it up, and carry on with whatever resulting skin condition has been gifted you by a lifetime of smoking the evil weed.

                                                                               Crabby

Anyone else needing me to dispense with hard-won wisdom, delivered without holding back, please address your questions to “Dear Crabby”.

Volunteers…

July 13, 2008

An enterprising squirrel planted a hazelnut in the foundation plantings. He thought to be clever and bury it deep down near the roots of some flourishing St. John’s Wart. His little squirrel brain, with its extensive information of sites of buried food for retrieval in the off-season, winter, must have been ovehelmingly full of detail; he forgot about the nut he buried there.

Early in the spring, I spied a couple of spindly hazel branches making elegant arcs over the leafing St. John’s Wort bed. Aha, a volunteer! I did not have the heart to yank it out and foolish me thought to let it stay, to see just how vigorous the hazel’s growth was to be by summer. So, now, in July, the few branches have grown into a young tree; its canopy swishes with the wind against the bug screen of our computer, music room. When one raises eyes from the computer monitor, a subtle green scrim filters out harsh sunlight. It pulses and shifts with the breezes, a lacy verdant curtain, far more desirable than any self-conscious leafy patterned fabric curtain indoors.

I shall have to foray out with shovel and spade, and rudely dislodge it from the foundation bed. The hazel, I now find out, has a vigorous growth habit. After some more development, its roots will disturb the house’s foundation, and make possible leaks to crack the cement. Such power in a natural vegetative force, to be able to encroach on natural and man-made hard materials. Still, I plan to embrace the rest of the summer season and grant a respite for this volunteer. In the Fall, when its leaves have released their hold on the branches, will be the time to pull it out. Perhaps, even, try to plant it in some other area of our little suburban plot. It would be ideal  for suburban plots to have some fruit and nut trees. Mature hazels produce a good crop of nuts, which are also delicious.

Out behind Rumpole’s woodworking addition, another squirrel has planted an acorn from one of the oak trees two blocks away. As far as I have been able to discern, the parent tree is one of two for many blocks around. Our little acorn seedling had such a bonsai appearance in its early establishment that I didn’t have the heart to dig it up. It has character; a persistent raddled beauty – awkward, its immature branches contorting from the West Winds prevalent on that side of our place. It is now as tall as me-a regular character with its gesturing thin main arms rising from a trunk slowly increasing in girth.

It makes me wonder just how many seasons must pass before the appearance of its fruiting, the acorns which hang in small clusters. It seems fortuitous that I have become interested in preparing my own drawing ink. The acorns will relase oak gall, which makes ink of a lovely character. The ink may not have many centuries of permanence, as all natural dyes it will fade when exposed to light for years. There is something so satisfying in the thought of preparing my own materials for drawing.

An acquaintance has a stand of black walnut trees. She is selling her property this fall, and she has many small black walnut seedlings which have volunteered to grow where they had fallen. Black walnut liquor makes a wonderful drawing ink. I shall ask to buy one of her volunteers and transplant it on the West side of out house; also ask her for the seed-hulls from her Black Walnut harvest this Fall. Soaking the seed coverings results in a beautiful ink. Like an old witch toiling over a vat, stirring, stirring, I can make drawing ink to give to artist friends and keep some for my own use. Then the newly transplanted volunteer will grow over the years and provide both ink and edible walnuts. Perhaps, not right away, but soon in the future.

The hunt for strawberries…

July 11, 2008

Martha and I had our dinner and movie night a couple of days ago. On Wednesdays, I am a guitar widow;  Rumpole goes from work directly to dinner with a friend and then to his standing weekly guitar lesson. Martha rented “Death at a Funeral” for our movie treat. She made a supper of ribs, salad and for special dessert, strawberries and raspberries au nature. This time of year is special for it is when that yearly gift of strawberries can be so briefly savoured and treasured.

Last week, Looking For Beauty, dropped by after one of her local shopping forays and shared her treasure trove of local organic strawberries with us. They were perfect, blood red throughout, plump and sweet. it occurred to me that it might be so pleasant to pull out of the freezer a little bag, during one of those cold, overcast winter days when root vegetable stews are a customary diet. So off this gift of strawberries went into the freezer.

The local  strawberry crop had been much reduced this year, due to inclement cold early summer days and rains. The farmers are hurting; their crop yield is more than halved. So acquiring a small amount of this fruit to put up for winter delight has become a challenge. Today, Martha and I are trekking out into the valley to farmer’s stands, on the lookout for a small amount of strawberries by which to remember summer during those long dark winter days. It seems, that, once in while, a ration of a couple of berries, thawed out, sprinkled with a small dusting of sugar  will be such a bounty to share with friends and family.

This is far more meaningful, in my opinion, than purchasing unripe strawberries at the supermarket; the ones that come from Chile or  other far-flung places during our winter season are inedible and a waste of resource to import. Better to appreciate small amouts of what our land and weather provide, closer to home, than to vainly pretend that the seasons do not in any way affect our lives and pleasures.

Strawberries are a luxury, a gift and a delight. Maybe the ones we find today will have come fresh from the fields, warm from the reflected heat of sun on soil. And then, tomorrow, when Byline Woman and The Engineer come for supper, we can celebrate 40+ years of friendship by ceremonially tasting a touch of a shared summer.

The saga continues…

July 5, 2008

The fifth operation on my left eye, which was a mere three weeks ago, is now merely another installment in the saga of attempts to restore some of my failing vision. The eye is starting to resemble a desiccated bloodshot raisin. Its surface is pocked with craters somewhat like the surface of the moon. I now sport a permanent squint, much like Popeye, not a good look for a woman, but heck, it gives me character of sorts.

The last operation, #4, was to remove the oil bubble that had been inserted in my eye to help seat the retina which was becoming detached by scar tissue removed during the previous one. It is quite something to be able to see the pipette inserted into the eye’s globe and watch the viscuous oil  stretch toward the pipette’s tip and gradually diminish in size. I am glad to report that my complaints to the surgeon about the background elevator-music of Soft Rock in the OR had resulted in blessed unmusical silence which helped me concentrate on ‘observing’ as best I could the procedure. This operation was a slam dunk, or so it seemed. A really quick and painless recovery, only made irritating by my having to lie on my left side all the time for ten days.

Last Thursday, Rumpole drove us for a follow-up appointment with the surgeon. Even the rigmarole in the overcrowded office seemed less onerous this time. Enter Dr. Seemore’s sidekick, an efficient Chinese gentleman with a cultured British Accent. Dr. Seemore, it seems, was on a scant week’s holiday, which given his insane working schedule he truly deserves. This nice surgeon peered this way and that into my eye, shone lights into it and announced that some of the oil had been left in from the last operation and had to come out, during yet another operation. I had an unbearable urge to ask him if, perhaps, removing my eye for good and replacing it with a lovely shiny and smooth glass one might not be a better option. With gracious restraint but gritted teeth, I asked him how many more of this cutting and hacking I still had to anticipate and endure.

“I can’t say,…. maybe a couple more,” he dead-panned, “it all depends what happens during the next operation.”

Ookayy!!! An human eye is not so big an organ that it can take numerous invasions of scalpels and resewings. By now, my eye looks like a badly designed smocking, by a deranged seamstress, one who practises free-form smocking. I am rapidly losing patience with the whole scenario.

On the drive home, Rumpole commiserated with me about the whole deal. I told him how cheesed off and impatient I was feeling, and also that I’d have to suck it up and just get over it.

I came home, poured myself a big glass of red wine, and sat with my journal, writing out my feelings and ideas about what next? and how to adjust to the situation. So I have decided to get back to drawing and painting and and not be daunted by having to learn new ways and means to do these things. So onward to an adventure of an old dog learning new tricks. To Life!

Novel Search Engine Terms…

July 4, 2008

How do some people find my blog? For one, mis-spelling a word leads them in this direction. Take one of today’s search Engine terms that gave me a pause, giggle and occasion to let loose some flights of fancy.

“how to pose for aural sex” led this poor bad speller to my unarguably sedate blog. This suggests a search for the safest sex ever – phone sex, I presume, although one can let the imagination roam and brain-storm for other possibilities? The posing part is intriguing. Does one pose a graceful and seductive hand to cup an ear, hang upside down, recline in sensual abandon and hang one’s head a 15 Degrees from the edge of one’s silk-sheeted bed?

Was Shakespeare suggesting the depravity of Roman populations when he wrote the wonderful beginning of Marcus Junius Brutus’ famous soliloquy – “Friends, Romans, countrymen; lend me your ears…”? Yeah, I know that’s a stretch and complete silliness on my part, but that is how my mind tends to work on little sleep.