The light changes in April, and the skunk cabbage comes poking up out of the mud in the swampy woods, and the grass in Bedhead Hills becomes vivid green. Daffodils do their daffo-thing. It’s nature’s sleight of hand. One day it’s late winter, and the next, the birds are screaming, my eyelids feel like sandpaper, and I’m running Covid tests because I forgot about spring and I forgot about allergies.
All those years ago when my mother did us the disservice of dying in April, she should have picked a more dismal month, like February or November to ruin. Better still, she could have refrained from dying at all, and stuck around for the death-fest that is Life in the Time of Coronavirus, when hundreds and thousands die every day and no one cares. Then, we’d have spent every day of the last two years worried for her safety.
If, in the past, I felt peaceful making these, I have lost that feeling now. It might come back. I’ve saved it a seat. Meanwhile, I am still doing it automatically, without asking myself to do it. It is a daily practice. A chore, even. An obligation. To what? To the horror? To something I started and don’t know how to finish?
The totals go up. The daily deaths and cases got pretty low, but they didn’t go away. And then the cases started going back up again, despite the fact that no one seems to be counting anymore. A new variant is just around the corner.
In the spirit of “Everything is Fine,” I spent the last six months getting ready to go to the Vizsla National Specialty Show in Shakopee, Minnesota, and on the 23rd of April, I loaded the car with a lot of stuff and two dogs and hit the road.
Because of the Covid pandemic (which continues unabated), last year’s Vizsla National was postponed from April to October, so while it was held only a few months ago, it’s already time for this year’s, in Minnesota. And I hear it’s way out west next year, so I’ve been pretending oh, sure I’ll go again this time. Why not? I don’t have anything better going on. Who does?
Besides, Eggi and Fellow and I have been working pretty hard at obedience and agility, going to twice-weekly classes with our trainer who teaches in her backyard when the weather allows and in a classroom above her garage when it doesn’t. My dogs love the classes, indoors or out, and whether I wear a mask or don’t, they’re used to both by now.
I thought it would be good to do some practice shows locally to get ready for our big trip. I did a couple of conformation days handling my own dogs in the breed ring, and while they know what to do, I understand it like a child playing dress-up, wobbling around in high heels and a party dress that doesn’t fit, miming doing cheers with an imaginary glass of champagne. Eggi was so surprised I was in the breed ring with her she watched the handler next to me. Fellow had the grumpiest judge I’ve ever seen, and I strangely enjoyed watching her find fault with him. No ribbons. Who cares? They’re both grand champions, and I’m not chasing more breed titles with them.
Now, in the obedience ring, this is where we might stand out. Novice obedience is easy for Eggi, so I felt Eggi and my trips around the ring would be confidence boosters; she and I already have a beginner novice title that we completed last summer in Vermont. Fellow is younger, less experienced, goofier, and easily excited, so I was hoping I would be able to use my time with Eggi in the ring reinforcing the calm, positive efficient way I need to work with Fellow. I signed up for the two dogs to do two different classes each of the days, Saturday and Sunday, one of obedience and one of rally. I had four numbers to manage between the two dogs, three judges, and three rings over two days. It was for practice.
We arrived early as one must. The drive had been unremarkable. I had brought a pair of travel crates and a chair which I took inside and set up. I also had to check on and change the classes I entered with Eggi, so I had to find the superintendent to do that first thing. There are A sections and B sections for novice levels; A is for the Novice handlers with no previous titles and B is for Novice handlers with any previous titles but if you read the rules carefully you might come to the conclusion (as I had) that being a beginner and working on your first titles might be reason to put you in the A group, but any title at all puts you in the B group. Anyway, I managed to get myself switched into the correct class, by trying to be polite and apologetic, or maybe they’re used to nitwits like me, begging for mercy. In any event, by doing so, Eggi and I would show in the B group, and we would have to be last to go.
Walking into the Better Living Center at the Big E, I could tell something was wrong. Like, if you showed up at a high school party, the music was loud and unfamiliar, and you could smell something burning, a couple of kids looked like they were already puking, and all before you even made it inside. The Better Living Center was crowded (13 rings), and it was loud. And it wasn’t fun and happy loud; it was tense loud. Eggi stopped to smell every pillar like it had just been peed on. Fellow turned to me and just barked in my face.
It was too crowded. It was too loud loud. There was a puddle of pee by the obedience and rally rings that I watched dry slowly over two days, turning from a wet puddle to a sheet of thin, faintly yellow crystallized urine. No one came and cleaned it up. The first dog to go in Eggi’s novice obedience class stepped 15 feet into the ring, stopped, squatted, and took a dump. His handler picked it up, the ring steward rushed over and dabbed at the spot with a couple of squirts of hand sanitizer (yes, hand sanitizer), and the judge moved the cones for the figure 8 away from the place where it had happened. This pair was disqualified for pooping in the ring.
When Eggi and I entered the ring, the judge commented that mine was the third vizsla in the class. I replied that one of them was Eggi’s grandmother. The judge may or may not have said anything else. In retrospect, I think she may have tried to say something nice to set me at ease, which was hard to do, and became increasingly more difficult as we moved through the ring, because from that moment onward I’m pretty sure I misunderstood most of what she said, at least at first.
Eggi had her good moments, and a few, unexpected moments of sightseeing. Her automatic sit while heeling was absent. She came when called but finished herself and never presented herself in front of me. It was a bit like showing a dog that already had a novice title but I did not know how to handle. Nevertheless, we got a qualifying score, and were called back for the group long sit and down.
And that might have gone ok had the judge not lined us up so that one dog had to sit in the spot where the disqualified dog had pooped earlier. And of course, one dog was instructed to sit there, and it was mine. The sitting actually went ok. But for the down stay, which lasts a minute, Eggi started by hinted to me that there might be a problem when she lay down diagonally away from me rather than straight. And after about 35 seconds I could see that she was thinking about doing something with one hip. Was she going to roll onto one side? That would be ok. But, no. At 45 seconds she popped up into a beautiful square sit, with a satisfied smirk on her face. She surveyed the other, obedient dogs, all good, lying down dogs for the full minute, Eggi clearly thinking, “All y’all are doing down stay on the dog dooky floor mat like a bunch dog dooky chumps.”
So we were disqualified. With 15 seconds to go. No score. No qualifying leg towards her title. Not the confidence booster I was sure it would be.
Fellow’s turn was pretty typical for him. He was boisterous, bumping into me on the heel work and popping up whenever I returned to him, costing us a qualifying score as well.
Then we took a couple trips around the rally ring, which is the miniature golf of obedience. It was reasonably fun, as I believe it is intended to be. You go in the ring and follow the signs. Both dogs had qualifying legs. And then we went home, ran around the yard and ate ramen
The next day, all the obedience judges traded places. Fellow’s ring worked very efficiently that morning, so I showed him first. He kept himself together better, and bumped into me less. The judge told me twice how beautiful he was and asked about his breeding. He had a qualifying score, and that was his second beginner novice leg so when he shows at the Vizsla National he could possibly finish his title.
Eggi and I had practiced everything she’d had trouble with the day before, so I went in feeling confident it would go ok. Alas, the sightseeing during off-leash heeling was even worse on Sunday. The overall noise level was less, but a work crew arrived during our turn and started dismantling the ring next to us. When I left Eggi to do the recall (where the dog sits and stays and the handler crosses to the other side of the ring and calls the dog on the signal of the judge), there was a tremendous crashing noise behind her. Eggi did not get up, but she did turn her head to look, and she did not turn back to look at me. The judge signaled. I was in a situation I had never practiced: my dog was not even looking at me. Normally, I say, “come!” brightly and clearly. Some people say their dog’s name and then “come.” I decided, given that she was looking out of the ring, that I would say, “Eggi! Come!” as loudly (and brightly and clearly) as I could manage. So I did.
Slowly, she turned her head towards me. She sat, still stuck to the spot where I had told her to stay. She had stayed through a loud crashing noise. She had been extremely good, hadn’t she. Had I just said her name? What were we doing? Still she sat.
I called again: “Come.”
She came. But we did not have a qualifying score. Again.
Did I sit in my chair and cry while I watched the work crew who ruined my obedience competition roll up the mats and take the ring away? Yes.
Wasn’t this supposed to be practice? Wasn’t Eggi actually very good, under very hard circumstances? Isn’t this just a dog show? Yes, yes, and yes.
Did I go and learn the miniature golf rally course and stick around and do that with both dogs? Also, yes.
Fellow was first of my two goes in rally. I like to get those rally courses over with, so we marched through it very efficiently, and on our way out the judge said Thank you, which is kind of weird because usually they tell you if you qualified or not. But I thought we nailed it. Whatever. It’s only practice.
So I put Fellow in his box and grabbed Eggi out of hers and got her walking around warming up and I saw someone getting ready to go in the ring ahead of us who was practicing a specific sign, the 5th one, which was down your dog, walk around them, and proceed, and I’m thinking….wait….I didn’t dooooo that
But what did I just do? because I did the whole thing so fast I didn’t even remember…
I grabbed my map just to make sure, and oh boy, howdy, I just skipped it? Or made something up? Or had him sit instead of down? I still don’t know.
Anyway, Eggi did do that sign correctly, but Fellow never did. So Eggi had a qualifying rally leg that day, but Fellow didn’t. Which means that she, too, could perhaps finish a novice rally title at the Vizsla National.
But the goal of going is to enjoy it. We leave in the morning.
Almost no one seems to be paying any attention to the pandemic right now, which must be very frustrating for the people whose job it is to save people from it.
And then the total number of global Covid deaths passed six million, and did anyone even shrug?
I am finding myself so conspicuously the only person with a mask on in public places I feel pressured to remove it. I have been asked why I (still) wear one when I don’t have to. I have responded with a polite, upbeat, serious answer. It is astonishing what near strangers will ask in the time of covid.
Another milestone I passed this month is 500 of these works.
Yesterday was exhausting; I pack my Wednesdays so that enduring the worst day of the week is a mild frenzy of (mostly) dog activities. The reward is Thursday: the best day of every week. Thursday has good posture. Thursday always sings on key. Thursday knows all the words. Thursday can spare an extra dog-doo bag. Thursday remembered to take out the trash and paid the electric bill on time. Thursday waves at the guy who brings the mail. Thursday heard it might rain but went for a walk anyway. Thursday might get wet, but Thursday doesn’t care, because Thursday always wears a raincoat.
Soon, it will be time to start cutting the grass again.
It felt like Tuesday (it was Thursday), and I saw my shadow, so I thought I should sit outside (it rained and snowed) and enjoy the (brief moments of) sunshine but the dog came in and just opened his trap and puked as if only to remind me that though he was sicker before and now he was a bit better (so much better, really). But really, he could take another turn for the worse. At any minute.
When we hit the middle of February, our Captain reached the age of 14 1/2, and celebrated with some dog tummy trouble. I made the old guy a batch of dog stew (sweet potato and beef), and when he wasn’t better by the time we’d used up the first batch, I took him to the vet.
The vet pulled some blood, gave him some fluids, gave me a pep talk, and sent us home.
Captain rejected the second batch of the same stew. I made a third batch–heroically cancelling Zoom pilates, and rushing to the store as soon as they opened–out of grated white potato and gently simmered chicken breast; he rolled a tiny nugget of chicken over his teeth and pushed it out again, and vomited in my lap.
We made another trip to the vet. A bowl of dog stew fell out of the fridge on me and I wore the splashed pants all day. We added sub-cutaneous fluids, and several medications, one for the sour stomach, one for the nausea, another to coat his esophagus.
More times than I can count, I sat alone in a quiet corner of the house where I could hear none of my husband’s work meetings and cried. I despaired that he seemed to be on his way out.
Eggi and Fellow took turns sleeping next to him, and not because it had been especially cold.
My internet friends like to tell me that Captain is their favorite, and they noticed the absence of Your Daily Captain photos. I posted that he was “not eating,” and had to reply “pancreatitis,” two or ten times, which was as much as I knew. Veterinary medicine makes it possible to do an ultrasound and discover what horrible thing is causing the funky blood levels and vomiting. Or we can guess (that it’s cancer), keep him as comfortable for as long as we can, and when it’s time to let him go, let him go.
There was a day when I could get no food into him and no pills. I settled into the familiar, bitter feeling of how completely shitty the past couple of years have been for me and for everyone, of the losses on top of losses, and of course this was what was going down. I set up Captain’s fluids out of a resigned obligation to him, even though he wouldn’t eat. I accidentally stabbed myself with a used needle and laughed because it hurt like hell, bled everywhere, and I felt like I deserved it.
About an hour later I offered him a bite of chicken and he actually ate it. I fed him a bit more, and even tricked him into taking his meds. The next day, I got more food into him, more meds, and picked up more fluids. He wagged his tail at known visitors. He wanted me to feed him, one bite at a time, so I did.
He rallied. He had a few more good days and a couple of rough nights lately. He sleeps most of the time. Fellow still tries to get a game going.
Today he is still here. I can hear his light snores as he naps on the heating pad. We bought that heating pad for Cherry, who lived to be 15.
Cherry was a fantastic dog who guessed what I wanted, and who, in the way of good bitches, really never put a foot wrong. Sure, she disliked the vet and barked at little girls she was suspicious of. Her passing opened the door for new dogs and new friends and learning new things like agility and obedience. Cherry is always right behind me when I go snowshoeing, perfectly careful not to step on the back of my snowshoes, unless she needs me to see something, or slow down, or think of her.
This year, February was like I dunno about four days long.
Then, on the second day, with the Winter Olympics and its quadrennial doping scandals over, and football finished, the infinitely short American attention span glanced briefly at some famously ignorant guy with a podcast who got a lucrative contract from an online streaming service despite building his career on stupid ramblings, racist remarks, and inviting onto his platform windbags, charlatans, anti-vaxxers. know-nothings, and snake-oil salesmen to promote the important work that the coronavirus is doing killing and disabling people both here in America and all over the world. So some of the few remaining musicians with actual control over their recordings quit the platform in disgust, while others just had to say, yeah, we would if we could.
On the third day, I was cleaning up my art materials because the cat gets into my shit and I didn’t want him to cut himself and when I went to slide the safety cover over the blade of the circle cutter I cut myself pretty well.
Next, on the fourth and last day of February, the Russians, who had waited patiently until after the Olympics, started a war on Ukraine. We have all forgotten entirely about international games of peace (which they were not officially allowed to compete in), dopes, doping, masks, and vaccines.
Almost everyone everywhere is horrified, heaping sanctions large and small upon Russia. And people are moved by the desperation of the Ukrainians, some of who are staying to fight, while others are fleeing the military invasion. We, as Americans, spend almost all of our tax dollars on our military, so we probably could step in. But we don’t, because that would be World War III.
I remembered to do a tea box again for the first time in many months. Big numbers, little box. Eggi was very helpful in the demo.
I used both sides of 5 cereal boxes this month, something that wasn’t necessary, but it was possible. As it is, you have to flatten a cereal box to put it in the recycling, so there you are, cardboard in hand, deciding if you could re-use it.
Grackle was a regular pest in January.
People on Twitter had things to say about the stripes. Here’s what I can tell you: I dreamed I did it.
Idaho should not feel singled out; I found a box of maps. If you have an old map of a state you’d like me to feature, maybe we could work out a trade.
The 20th, below, became the 25th, and then became the 26th. Shit happens.
Those paintings are still there; you just have to see them with your mind.
I feel I have a new relationship with the color yellow now.
Because I write these numbers down every day, when we passed ten billion vaccine doses administered worldwide on Friday, January 28, it was cause for exclamation. I yelled, like, “holy fuck,” or something. That’s a lot of shots. There are still plenty of Americans yet to get theirs, and if you know some, I’m sorry.
Pretty soon I’m going to have to buy some more paper. I’m thinking about making these smaller for a while; I’m not sure how that will work.
[NOTE: Yucky photos of a turkey carcass, but no guts or anything. Just dirty meat.]
Somehow, last Thursday I forgot it was Thursday and I didn’t write anything.
I have been staying busy doing nothing, trying not to get the Omicron variant as the entirety of America seems to be working on getting it. No one outside of my paranoid household and any given hospital ICU seems bothered by this, though. Half of America still won’t get vaccinated. The other half of America might definitely sometimes wear a mask, mostly covering part of their face, at the doctor, when they go to the movies (ok, until it’s like dark anyway), and when they walk into restaurants (but obviously not when they’re eating). They’re uncomplainingly sending their kids to in-person school, taught by whatever random substitute is replacing their usual teacher (because she’s out with COVID), and they’re just so psyched for when this whole thing is like over and we can like just go back to like normal.
Last Friday I passed some garbage on the side of the road near my house, which is, in and of itself, a remarkable thing. I live in a community with both paved and unpaved roads, all lovingly maintained by our taxes to preserve the rural flavor. The local Department of Thoroughfares is quite responsive if alerted to a downed limb or illegal dumping, and typically the roads stay clear. Those of us who walk our dogs around here pick up errant trash when we see it and this corner of Bedhead Hills stays picture perfect.
So when I ran out again to mail a letter, and it was still there. I slowed and rolled down my window.
It was a turkey.
Not like a wild kind of turkey that lives in a flock in the woods around here. It was a naked, plucked, legless, headless, ready-to-be-salted-and-peppered-and-roasted kind of bird. It was raw, and not frozen. It had slid out from its butcher paper wrapper, and bounced, out of whatever vehicle it was being delivered by. I imagine it was in the way of something else that had to be delivered, and it got moved, and then it slipped out. It was abandoned in the gravel at the side of the road, and easily a 20 pounder.
Now, whoever dropped this turkey obviously messed up. Big time. Maybe the turkey escaped without notice. Maybe the turkey exited the vehicle with a dramatic flourish. Either way, someone around here did not get their 20+ pound fresh turkey delivered Friday. It was a turkey they were waiting for, that they had special ordered, that they weren’t expecting to need to defrost; this wasn’t an easy to replace item. This was dinner for 12, plus a weekend’s worth of leftovers.
All I really wanted to see happen next was the sad turkey accident going to a good re-purpose. Sure, it wouldn’t be feeding the neighbor’s weekend houseguests, but maybe the crows would find it. Or the coyotes I sometimes hear yip-yipping in the woods. We’ve heard stories of the bears down the hill, and I’ve even seen their poo around here. Would a bear eat that? Might they come up this far? And when the deer died in our wetland, we had a great congregation of vultures gather. Would there be vultures?
Friday night we had a big wind storm, so I drove down to check the carcass late and didn’t get out of my car. Saturday morning it was very cold, so I put Eggi in her jacket and she and I walked down together first thing. She noticed the crow in the tree before she saw the turkey, and they exchanged insults. The crow was still shouting at us as we retreated homeward through our woods.
That day was very, very cold. I assumed that whatever was scraping away at the turkey wasn’t going to be able to move it, since everything was frozen solid.
Sunday afternoon, I took Eggi for another walk to see if it was still there.
By Monday afternoon, the snow was very soggy, and the turkey was turned over, but it was still there. The Bacon Provider ran out to mail something and said he saw buzzards in the road, but didn’t get a picture.
Tuesday, I took Eggi to obedience class, and the turkey was lying on its back again in the middle of the road.
A few hours later it was out of the middle of the road but not quite to the shoulder.
Had something attempted to carry it, and failed?
Yesterday afternoon, before we got more snow, the carcass was to be found over on the shoulder, and was looking pretty stringy and dirty.
At 11:45 this morning, Eggi and I saw that it was in similar condition, under fresh snow.
Today at about 5 pm, I drove down to try to see if I could find it before I lost the light.
All that is left are the two big thigh bones, the spine, and the pelvis. And, of course, the plastic hock lock, because plastic is forever.
About 434 days ago, I started writing down what day it was, because I was having trouble telling what day it was.
We’ve had only a few days of genuinely cold weather this winter, and one snowy day. Otherwise, it was mud, mud, mud outside at the end of 2021, that very long, very strange year.
Some nights I dream about making paintings. Once, I dreamed I was in a great gray void with a long, long brush that was two or three times as tall as me, and a clanking tin bucket of black ink hanging on my belt, and I danced across a great, undulating sheet of soft, thick paper as it floated on a shallow sea. The paper wanted to curl into a scroll before I could finish writing the numbers, trapping my feet between the two tubes.
Thanks to the arrival of the omicron variant in the U.S., on top of the reluctance of about 40% of America to bother getting vaccinated, we ended 2021 in the U.S. with an explosion in the number of infections. There may not be enough test kits available to measure the cases.
I had an impulse to paint over the 20th and it became the 27th. I also painted over the 26th, and it became the 31st.
This is a list of the books I read, from March 2021 to December 2021
Perestroika in Paris, by Jane Smiley Notes on a Silencing, by Lacy Crawford The Custom of the Country, by Edith Wharton The Face of War, by Martha Gellhorn Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo Hopkinson Gypsy, a memoir, by Gypsy Rose Lee Strange Weather in Tokyo, by Hiromi Karakawa Under a White Sky: the nature of the future, by Elizabeth Kolbert Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark The Cigar Factory, by Michele Moore The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark
Swallowdale, by Arthur Ransome The Mandelbaum Gate, by Muriel Spark Peter Duck, by Arthur Ransome Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori Winter Holiday, by Arthur Ransome Loitering with Intent, by Muriel Spark
Coot Club, by Arthur Ransome Fugitive Telemetry (Murderbot diaries, Book 6) by Martha Welles The Finishing School, by Muriel Spark Pigeon Post, by Arthur Ransome The Bachelors, by Muriel Spark
Ducks, Newburyport, by Lucy Ellmann The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark
The Copenhagen Trilogy, memoirs by Tove Ditlevsen We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, by Arthur Ransome The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch
Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather Nobody will tell you this but me, by Bess Kalb The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore
Monica Byrne’s The Actual Star The Heroine with 1001 Faces, by Maria Tatar Madeline Miller’s Circe
Daniel DeFoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year Louise Erdrich’s new and terrific novel, The Sentence Od Magic, by Patricia A. McKillip The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones P. G. Wodehouse’s Heavy Weather Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, by Sue Townsend The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula Le Guin The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald Split Tooth, by Tanya Tagaq