A letter to the mouse that died in my kitchen last night

Dear Mouse,
You’ve probably been living in the basement your whole life, and today wasn’t even too cold. The cat, Schwartz, was feeling lively and caught you. I didn’t even know about you until I heard your peeps and squeaks by the back door.  Were you injured at that point, or just protesting?
Anyway, my first error was calling the dogs. It was an impulse. They found you with Schwartz and started the mad chase into the bathroom and around the toilet. That was me, the one screaming. Why I screamed I can’t say. I had pet rodents as a kid: mice, a hamster, a gerbil, a rat. I picked them up and carried them around. They were my pets. Sometimes they got loose and I had to catch them and put them back. I didn’t scream then. I must have been a better person then, somehow. Well, it wasn’t a little screaming. Sorry about the screaming.
Captain was the next one to pick you up and carry you around. He was the one who got you wet, I think. But when I shouted at him he dropped you and then Cherry snatched you up. She isn’t the quickest dog in the house, owing to her age, but tonight she was the deadliest.
You died quickly, mouse, and Cherry guarded you for a long time. She was very proud of what she’d done, and wouldn’t let anyone look at you or smell you or take you. She didn’t seem interested in eating you, which I would have let her do as the one who did the deed. Somehow, to my mind that seemed fair. Cherry appeared a little confused by the situation. Instinct ruled when she caught you and when she dispatched you, but after that she wasn’t sure. She growled at Schwartz, even, and she never growls at Schwartz.
There was no question of burying you since it’s nothing but ice outside right now. Maybe we could have left you out for the coyotes or the foxes, but where should one leave such an offering? Alas, you went into the trash.
You left a family behind, I’m sure. Schwartz is down there waiting for the next one of you. This is how it is with cats and mice. He keeps his cool, crouching quietly behind the boxes. He knows your habits, and makes a plan. Y’all don’t live very long, do you, mice? Between the hardships of weather and finding food, and then the cat or the foxes and hawks outside, life for you must be harsh and brief. I haven’t had it easy lately either, what with all the injustice in the world.  But I have a warm house, and food, and with any luck I shouldn’t have to watch predators capture and eat my children.

Did you leave behind hopes and dreams, unfulfilled? Will your family sigh over your promises unkept? Are they dividing your possessions as I write this, or do they not yet know? Will they be left wondering whatever happened to you? Maybe they heard the screams. I’m still sorry about the screams.

Vizsla, with mouse

Dear Dogs, or, Why I Forgot to Feed You This Morning,

I got up and got going, you know, feeling ready to tackle the problem that had emerged last night, but when I let you out and found the driveway impassably icy, I got sidetracked. I know I don’t need to tell you how I felt about it because you know everything about how everyone feels, including the cat, even though you might never have the first clue about why anyone feels the way they do. You knew I was worried, and my concern was about getting down the driveway today, given the ice and the scary trip I had doing it yesterday. I got on the phone and spoke to three or four people, trying to figure out what was the best way to proceed, given the sanding that was already done yesterday.
So, then, I got busy figuring out if a dinner could be made with the ingredients in the house. We have had leftovers at least three of the last four nights and though you eat the same thing at every meal, you know I can’t do that. I unearthed a forgotten bag of stew meet in the freezer and just enough carrots in the fridge, and embarked upon the making of beef stew for beef pot pie. I fed the sourdough and stole some to start the sourdough biscuit and also started a bit of fresh soup stock from the bones I also found in the deep freeze. You know how I like to cook when I’m worried! 

Next, I went to moan over the problem that emerged last night: my sewing machine. It had stopped working so suddenly, causing all that evening’s woe and heartache and anger. I retraced my mental checklist of threading and settings and power-cord possibilities and found this morning that, lo, and behold! I had overlooked something when the machine stopped sewing last night, and it was a simple cord, unplugged, dangling impishly near but not in the socket where it should have been plugged. And, so, after returning the phone calls and texts about the driveway and the continuing some steps of the cooking process and eating my breakfast, of course, and then being able to finish not only the sewing project I had been working on when I was interrupted yesterday but also to get that much closer to finishing the audiobook I’m close to the end of, I got distracted.
Dogs on snow

The walk was pretty good, wasn’t it? With the property quiet and no one else around, we made the perimeter in record time, counter-clockwise, which is my favorite way to go, and yours. When I sat down at the end to look at the fuzzy buds on the tree and generally take in a mild moment of winter, it wasn’t because I was upset or even pensive, it was an impulse, it is ten degrees warmer today than it’s been in a while, but I guess I don’t have to tell you that either.
Anyway, when I got back in and took off my mittens and your jackets and my hat and scarf and boots and jacket and hung up your leashes and put the mittens and scarf and hat back in the basket and changed out of my long underwear and waterproof pants and put on my corduroys and realized your kennels were still standing open with your food bowls on top, it was then that I realized you hadn’t gotten any breakfast at all, even though it was already three o’clock.
So, I would like to apologize for being distracted and pre-occupied, about the kind of  stupid people-problems that go way beyond icy driveways and ,“do we have a dinner plan?” and into, “what are we doing with our life?” and, “how the Sam Hell did we end up here?!” and, “what are we going to do about that?!”
I love you, dogs. You are good dogs, and mostly obedient, and you’ve done nothing to deserve having to wait so many hours for your breakfast. Dinner will be soon, and you may not even want it, now that your tummies are full.
You could come and whine at me, next time, if I forget. That would be ok.
P.S. I finished the book and it was very good in the end, even if it had that sort of modern dissipating-smoke ending rather than an aha!-ending. It was a fine book.

P.P.S. Would you look at that? Here comes the sun.

Tracks

Two dogs, one chair
When The Graduate visits, the dogs greet him like they were waiting specifically for him since he was last at the farm. Maybe it was a week and maybe it was a month, but they bark and leap and lick and wiggle. When he is getting ready to leave, they watch him pack, their brows furrowed, their ears drooping down the back of their necks, their bodies curled into impossible knots of worry, their long legs sticking out at strange angles as they both try to be on the same wingback chair. They know.
After a year and a half of living at the farm, the dogs know the property. They know where the fox lives, where the latest deer carcass is, where the best corners for marking their territory are. I usually walk them in the afternoon, when it’s warmest. We walk the perimeter, a just-under-three kilometer route, with a hill. I take leashes, just in case, but generally let my dogs run ahead so they can be dogs.
We got snow last week, and then a day of rain followed by some cold nights.  The snow is no longer fresh, and it has an inch-thick frozen crust. Anywhere we have walked, our old tracks are icy from the compression.
Some days, we go counterclockwise, up the hill and then down, and around and up again. Other days, we go clockwise, down the hill and across and up and then down a ways. If the timing is right, I pick clockwise hoping to catch the beginning of sunset at the top of the hill. Dogs don’t care about sunsets.
Cherry is 12 now, and quite white in the face but still willing and interested in running. The icy snow has made it painful for her starting out some days this week; she seems to tiptoe around, her four feet clenched into teeny tiny paw-fists, her steps short and her back roached. She once stopped to complain, and I told her that her feet would be numb soon enough, and I was right.  She galloped ahead of me once she forgot to be upset about her cold paws. We are only ever out for a half an hour, an hour at the most. I make them wear jackets below 40F, and two layers below 20F. I am aware that she could wear boots, but if I buy dog boots I have to make the dog accept wearing dog boots.  Snow is temporary.
So we tough it out, and Cherry copes, staying on top of the snow and leaving only the tightest little prints in the surface of the unbroken snow.
Captain gallops along, full-throttle, his feet spread out wide. Those paws are webbed, for swimming, and make excellent snowshoes, and he’s so relaxed and happy outdoors that he slaps along the cold snow like it’s the best thing to run on. He loves to run on grass, too, of course, and on pavement, as well. He runs uphill and down, through the woods and over the trails, down the marked paths and the unmarked, diving into the bushes and emerging covered in ticks in all seasons except this one. Sometimes I find thorns stuck in him. He is so happy to be running outside, he just doesn’t care.
I pick my path with care. I stick mostly to the path of the day before, putting my steps not into the footsteps of yesterday because they don’t fit, end to end, or front to back. I’m constantly trying not to fall, looking for the best route, but I trust what I did yesterday; I didn’t fall yesterday, I can walk that path today. I fit my feet in the spaces between my tracks from before. Cherry picks her way around. In the iciest patches she walks behind me, in my footprints. Captain’s footfalls leave holes and after a day are great frozen paw prints, sunk down in the snow, like a marker of his impact. His prints are much bigger than his paws ever appear to be. He runs ahead and around and has to be called back.
The snow should all be gone tomorrow. We are expecting a front with warmer temperatures and lots of rain. There will be mud. Perhaps more snow will come again in another week.

Today, I had a Facebook message from an old friend who’d emailed last week and not heard back. My oldest friends use my oldest email, and I never remember to check it. It is always so full of junk (here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here), I avoid it. If she hadn’t used Facebook, I might not have known for another month. It’s not that I’m hiding; I’m just retracing my steps.

Raisins

 Raisin

There are people who really won’t eat a raisin. I’ve never seen them object to a grape, or a glass of wine, or a sun-dried tomato, but the raisin inspires a gag of revulsion from some people, two of them my raisin-hating relatives.

There are other shriveled foods, like, as I said, the tasty sun-dried tomato or the sugar-coated pretender the Craisin® or beef jerky or apricot fruit leather. Raisins, usually being almost black, do have the both shriveled appearance and the blackness to surmount. The blackness of raisins means that they might appear to be an errant rock or burnt bit, and makes them easy to identify and pick out. They are minimally processed and so lack the uniformity of beloved foods, like the shapely whip and twist of RedVines® (all the same length), or the sculptability of mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, or the colored domes of the trendy fancy macarons or even old school Fig Newtons or Oreos or any doughnuts really. Perfect, uniform food appeals to the particular palate and the infantile. “No,” screams the toddler, “I want it the SAME.”

So raisins. Wrinkly. Shriveled. Black. Big ones, small ones, occasionally long ones. Sometimes in one of those tiny boxes of Sun-Maid™ raisins you get one that’s shrunken to the point of seeming a first cousin of gravel. Not so nice. Lots of little kids hate them, though a few little kids recognize that raisins are mostly sugar in a little black chewy shrunken nubbin. The rest pick them out of oatmeal cookies, pick them off of otherwise gooey and completely delicious cinnamon rolls, and leave them on the table, on the napkin, in their hair, on their clothes, on the side of the plate, on the floor for the dog. The dog will eat the raisins, though grapes and raisins and onions and chocolate are all pretty toxic for dogs. Dogs don’t care. Dogs are happy to eat toxic things. If a toddler drops it, or a ten year old drops it, or an adult sneaks it under the table, a dog will eat it.
They put raisins in the traditional Moroccan tagine at Barbes, a midtown New York City restaurant. This place is a few blocks from the temporary apartment we moved to when we first got to New York, and so we ate there a few times and had a lovely meal even when they lost their Grade A and had to be Grade Pending and then even spent a few weeks as Grade B. These things happen. We kept going there, the Maître D’ kept opening the door to us, we kept ordering couscous and scalding hot sweet mint tea that they pour from as high up as they can reach and oh so delicious traditional tagine. But when my sister in law–a real live adult who saves people’s fucking lives—came to town and we met up with her there, she wouldn’t eat anything that might have raisins in it. I don’t even know how she knew to ask.
I think raisins are offered to young children and that is where the revulsion begins. My solution when my children were young and I still did things like bake cookies on a regular basis was to use golden raisins that are softer and lovelier and easily disguised within the texture of an oatmeal cookie.  But people will still ask, “Do these have RAISINS in them?”
I think the main problem that raisins have is the apparent consensus of their peers: most little kids hate raisins, and will complain about raisins being in things, and once the crowd has declared itself anti-raisin, that’s it.  They’re wrong, of course. Raisins are yummy. Oh well, more for me.

25 Things My Dogs Do

Lately I have been keeping a list of areas in which my dogs are more skillful than I am. Please feel free to add to this list in the comments section.
Running 
Smelling
Sniffing
Barking
Sleeping curled up in a chair
Cleaning up crumbs
Thundering down the stairs
Letting the cat bite them
Eating grass
Peeing on things outside
Looking comfortable sprawled on the floor
Being ready and excited to go somewhere in the car
Showing enthusiasm for a new toy
Showing enthusiasm for an old toy
Rolling on gross things
Looking out the window
Flopping on the couch
Meeting new people
Pricking ears
Belly flops in the pool
Whining
Fetching
Pooping in the middle of the road
Pooping in the middle of the floor
Body Rubbins

The Landlords: Tree-Planting Mania

You never really see them together, and in fact, the Landlords often arrive in separate cars. There are two ways you know they have arrived: either because you hear the barking, barking or because you see the silver car careening down the hill, driving on the grass across the lawn. It’s a circuit, you see, and it is how He arrives at the property.  We are surrounded by trees on all sides, but there is a track He drives, in a predictable and bumpy loop, mostly just inside the trees, and in all weather, and at any time of day or night. She drives a white one and He drives a silver one. Hers is newer and in good repair. His is battered on both ends, and has bits held onto the body by wire and that special handyman stickum.
Where all our water went
They are of a retired age, but maybe they have professional responsibilities that keep them in the city during the week. They are professionals, and both have advanced degrees. The Landlords usually show up Thursday nights, and stay through Monday. I send the rent check to a nice address in The City, on the Upper West Side.  (You should know by now that “The City” is New York City, which is where we should be living now,  but are not. It is where we will be living in the fall.) The Landlords have a teeny-tiny apartment above the garage, next door to this, the large red barn house.  Everything I know about their building is from the weekend in October when we stole their firewood.  We have no garage privileges, no matter how much we are paying for this house.
Buckets and new trees
Since we moved in last September they have been around on the weekend every weekend, and they have gone from one barking, barking dog to two barking, barking dogs.  Having a Country Place is something people do to survive city living. Our town is an easy enough commute to The City, so is not a bad place to have a Country Place as long as you don’t need to actually be in The Country (because this is actually The Suburbs).  I think it must be a relief for the Landlords’ dogs to come to The Country so they can bark with impunity.  I wonder, though, if they produce the same barking, barking in The City. I also wonder if the second dog was obtained in an effort to improve the first one.
When they are not driving around the property, walking their barking, barking dogs or burning wood in their woodstove, the Landlords have a passion for planting trees. I cannot report on how many trees they have planted this spring, but they were very busy at it for a few weeks there, with new trees going in every day.  We did not pay very much attention to it until the Saturday when we were getting dressed to go to a dinner party and we did not have enough water pressure to take a shower. All of our water was going to a new tree, just south of our house. 
It felt like there was some urgency to the tree-planting mania, what with the hoses needing to be dragged around, buckets requiring stacking, moving, refilling and lining up, holes wanting digging and refilling, mulch having to be purchased and delivered and applied.  The silver car was hard at work all over the property. He was very busy.
Some of the new trees are snugged in next to the driveway at the top.  You cannot see our house from the road at all, owing to the shape of the hill more than the trees.  Now that these new little trees have been planted, it seems clear that there is a plan to put evergreens along the driveway from the top to the bottom. The driveway is a quarter mile long and the trees flank the topmost fifth of that quarter mile. The new pines are perhaps twelve feet from the more mature pines on the other side of the drive, and in just a few years will create a perfect, all-around scrub-brush system for scratching the sides and tops of all entering and exiting vehicles.
Hose
There is now a hose stretched from the building where they spend weekends in the teeny-tiny  apartment above the garage all the way up the quarter mile long driveway to reach the new trees. I drive over this hose twice in the morning when I take the 8th grader to school, twice if I go to the grocery store, twice if I go to the post office, and twice if I drop anyone at the train station, and twice if I pick anyone up at the train station. The hose has remained stretched along the driveway for weeks, and soon I will have squashed it flat from driving over it.
I never see or hear the Landlords leave. Sometimes a car remains behind, so it seems like they are still here. The absence of barking is a state of quiet akin to having no headache.

Oh, Deer

The house we are renting has large windows, and the windows want washing, inside and out.  First I wasted a whole bottle of Windex and a whole roll of paper towels, having poked around in the closets looking for a proper squeegee, and finding none.  The dogs watched me going at the windows the whole time. I thought I was being interesting. It was the deer in the yard, though, that was the interesting part, and as I came in, out went Captain for a long, deer-chasing romp.
Later, I made for the closest hardware store I know of, in the near-ish town of Cross River. The hardware store makes keys, sells paint, and has the parts of your running toilet that will make it stop running. Like so many of the small hardware stores you find in strip-malls, it’s packed to the rafters with merchandise. I always find that you walk in and ask the guy behind the counter. Don’t bother looking for yourself. I was shown a few options, and picked a squeegee for which one must provide a handle. The clerk found a couple of possibilities for the pole, none of them perfect, but he did secure the pole to the squeegee with a screw, charging me for neither the pole nor the screw. Along the way, I got a bit of history (the upstairs of the store used to be the screening room of the old movie theater), and some predictions for snow this winter.
In Westchester County, deer (and black bear) can be hunted only by bow, and the season is from October 15thto December 31st. I have already met one man who has permission to hunt on this land.  The deer here are certainly plentiful, and a danger to motorists. I see them every morning when I walk the dogs to get the paper, all day when I look out the windows, every afternoon when I walk the dogs on the road, and every day when I am out driving.  There was a large doe killed recently on Cat Ridge Road, where I walk.  One of its hind legs was broken in the accident, and stuck out from its body at a disturbing angle. It happened on Friday night, and the carcass had been removed by Monday midday. Scavengers had only just started to make progress on it.
The deer here in Westchester seem well adapted to seeing people and cars and trucks, and give everything a good, long, dumb stare before walking or running away.  There is a group that I have seen grazing dully at the margins of the Taconic Thruway near Lagrangeville. The speed limit is 50 mph, but many people seem to take that as a polite suggestion, like flossing daily or changing your smoke-detector batteries twice a year. The one thing that seems to make deer try to leap high and run fast is my knuckleheaded dogs; they charge at deer, barking furiously in frustration, running as fast as they can with no plan for maneuvering over the stone walls that the deer hop over without much visible effort.  Maybe if deer made more noise I would respect them more.
My landlord informs me that he likes seeing the crows and ravens and vultures and eagles that come if the bow hunters leave the entrails after gutting a deer.  As a dog owner, the possibility of my dogs getting into rotting deer entrails is pretty scary, but it is not nearly as scary as the prospect of preventing any and all Vizsla escapes from October 15thto December 31st, from dawn to dusk.  I am pretty sure that Vizslas look as much like white-tail deer as any dog can.