Monthly Archives: September 2012

Hippie Heaven, New England-Style


The weather this weekend has been less than ideal, but more than typical for New England in the fall. If you go by the photographs, the sky is bright blue and the air is clear and the trees are brilliant.

The trees are realistic, that’s true.

But at this time of the year, the bright blue skies are, well, not quite the Holy Grail.  But a rarity, to be prized and seized and taken when found.  I can’t improve on the words of the amazing Massachusetts poet Marge Piercy, who gives us these lines in her “Nishmat”:

“We must wonder at the sky now thin as a speckled eggshell
That now piles up its boulders of storm to crash down,
That now hangs a furry grey belly into the street.”

Really, it’s impossible to improve on this material when it comes to discussing what the autumn skies in New England are really like.  For that matter, it’s impossible to improve on that entire poem. Here’s a link to some ancient typewritten, photocopied handout from a religious service that contains the entire text of the poem.  Do yourself a favor and click through there, and read that poem, and take it with you in your heart.  It never grows old for me.

Better yet, go buy some of her poetry books on Amazon.  This one looks good.  Looks so good I just bought it myself.  I don’t own a lot of poetry books.  I write the stuff myself, from time to time, but I don’t usually read it.  I make an exception for Marge Piercy.  Reading her poems has the same effect on me as a long cool sparkling drink on a hot summer day.  Or a thick mug of hot apple cider on a cold one.  These words remind me of who I am when I’m not too busy doing stuff to just be.  They make me feel like I’ve just taken a bath.

I wasn’t planning to go off on a Marge Piercy tangent right now, but I just can’t help wondering what she’d have to say about this day.  The clouds lightened a bit, the rain stopped, and we set out for a destination we’ve had in mind for years, but never accomplished:  The North Quabbin Garlic And Arts Festival.

AKA, as it turns out, Hippie Heaven.  New England Style.

Hippie Heaven, Texas Style, involves a lot less in the way of clothing, and a lot more in the way of vendors of exotic weapons and incense vendors.

Hippie Heaven, New England Style, involves quite a bit of clothing – some highly functional, some less so – and large number of woolen vendors.  Raw wool.  Fleeces.  Felt. Spun wool.  Dyed wool in hanks.  Dyed wool that has been spun.  Wool that has been knitted into mittens, sweaters, jackets.  Wool that has been felted into children’s toys.  Wool from sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas, and possibly other things.  I didn’t actually see anyone with live wool-yielding animals, but since this Festival takes place on someone’s farm, they can’t have been too far away.  I’d reckon that Wool-Related Vendors were represented in a 1:3 ratio with All Other Vendors.

Excluding the Food Booths, that is.  And these were spectacular.  Texas Festivals tend to be long on the Fried (fried corn, fried fish, fried jalapenos, fried ice cream, fried twinkies, fried oreos, and my favorite – fried dough).  They’re also long on the Meat (barbeque, chili, burgers, weenies, and a huge array of TexMex meat things wrapped up in tortillas).

New England Festivals are shorter on the Fried, although Cider Donuts are going to be a major player at any of the various festivaly things that go on in this season (and they are not to be missed when they appear).  They’re long on the Apple dimension (cider donuts, cider cider [hot and cold], apples, pies, dumplings, everything but Fried Apples).  And, it being New England, and New England being a surprising entry for Ice Cream Capital Zone of the Nation (and yes, I’m including my former home in Wisconsin as an Also-Ran in that contest), there is always ice cream.

Now, this being a Garlic Festival, we got to see garlic in action in all sorts of interesting places.  Garlic tapenade, garlic cream, garlic in olive oil on slices of bread, garlic paste for the pad thai, garlic drizzle for the lamb kebab from the Afghani restaurant booth.

And, it being New England and this being the Garlic Festival?

Garlic Ice Cream.

No shit, there I was.  And there it was.  And, really, how could I resist?

I didn’t bother.  I hoovered down a Garlic Ice Cream in a cone.

And damn, it was good.  It was like a really good crystallized ginger ice cream – all nice big juicy lumps of stuff cut up and suspended in the ice cream, only instead of ginger, it was garlic.  And it was good.  Not, probably, something I’d want every day.  But once a year?  Sign me up.

So there we are, with a surprisingly good Jam Band on the stage, eating our lamb kebabs with ground pomegranate seeds dusted atop, and our garlic ice cream, and our pad thai, surveying the crowd.  Which was a fascinating mix of aging hipsters with bald heads and soul patches wearing a Snuggli with a baby tucked inside…and lesbian moms on a family outing with the three kids…and assorted farmers…and sweet young things in tie-died gauze skirts and henna tattoos…and stocky women brandishing spinning bobbins and covered with lint…and free-range kids sporting face paint and artistic t-shirts swarming around…half a dozen horses pulling covered wagons…dreadlocked hippies of all ages flaunting hooping prowess…bee keepers en veil on their way to demonstrations involving hives…and an assortment of crusty ancients who look like they’d wandered off before putting in their upper plates and had gotten lost on their way to the dynamite fishing grounds.  And in a sweeping canopy over the assemblage, lowering dark clouds and bright red leaves.

We didn’t get a proper fall last year because of the hurricane – it blew a bunch of stuff down early, and then made big floods that gave fungal infections to a lot of the trees, so all we had last year was what we got in Texas.  The leaves just sort of crisped up and died and came down.

This year, I’m remembering what it’s really like in New England around the beginning of October.  People who don’t know think that the whole tree, sort of, goes colors all at once.  One day it’s green, next day it’s sort of greeny yellow, then it’s just yellow.

That is how it happens for some trees, but for the sugar maples, you get something entirely different.  Whole branches of the trees turn, suddenly, all at once into a flaming red mass.  While the rest of the tree stays bright green.  They look like they’ve been…polka dots.  Some of the other yellow trees do this too.  It’s utterly fascinating to look at as you drive, and thanks to Huey’s high maintenance Owie Remediation Schedule, I’ve been getting to spend a lot of time out driving around.  Only thing better would, say, be riding my horse around but I don’t want to go there right now.  He’s getting better, and we all just have to be patient.  Grrr.

On the way home, we stopped by one of the local apple orchards to Score Some Stuff for the horse.  There are loads of apple orchards in this region – Johnny Appleseed was from a town about 40 minutes away and definitely left his mark on the area.  Most of the orchards have pick-your-own concessions, and nearly all of them will also sell direct to the public (i.e., they pick and sack, you fly and buy).  This one we stopped at had a small retail operation as well.

I told Roy to park the car and we’d go in.  Unfortunately, the only open parking spot was occupied by a small terrier.  This is more of the New Englanders And Their Dogs thing.  The dog wasn’t about to move.  He looked like someone had put him there and told him to save the spot.  Maybe they did.  This means that Roy just dropped me off at the entrance to the shop, and I went in to locate apples for the horse.

I got them, yes, I did.



But it was a close thing.  I almost just died and went to heaven instead.

See, when you have these retail shops in the apple orchards, you’re usually going to be able to buy pies.  Pies made right there, that morning, if heaven is smiling upon your head.

I’d forgotten that this wasn’t one of those orchard shops.

It’s not a You’re Lucky If You Get A Pie Made This Morning shop.

It’s a Making Pies All Day Long shop.

And they had a wood burning oven, too.

Now, it’s my firm opinion that if Heaven has a smell, it smells just like my horse Huey.

But if it didn’t smell like my horse Huey, I would have a hard time deciding whether it smelled more like baking apple pies, or wood fires.

What’s not to love about the smell of a baking apple pie?  You get all of that rich browning doughy goodness that you get with baking bread.  And you get melting apples vaporizing into an aroma that ignites your nerve endings and makes them tingle like champagne bubbles.  And some buttery action, and then the cinnamon, just to make sure you keep paying attention.

Wood fires are the same.  All that thick heady fragrance pouring out as the sap heats up and vaporizes, and the deep layers from the wood itself being consumed…and then there’s always that primitive element, that little part of your brain that has been around since before we came down out of the trees, that tells you that FIRE. GOOD. LIGHT. SAFE.

I wouldn’t have thought there was any way to improve on either of these sensations.

I was wrong.

The way to make them better is to combine them.

Walking into that shop, with the wood fired oven cranking out apple dumplings, hot, juicy, tart apples bursting with flavor, wrapped in buttery soft pastry, all of it rising together like the hand of god to smite you on contact.

Yep.  I’m lucky I made it out of there alive.  Roy was lucky he didn’t get to go in, because I was protected, to some degree, by the fact that my nasal nerve endings have been under continued assault by hay fever for 40 years, and don’t work very well as a consequence.  Roy has a sense of smell like a basset hound.  I think his brain likely would have fried, had he been exposed to it.  No, no, it’s far too perilous.

And later, the meal and the apples behind us, there was a tiny, bijou, storm cell that blew through.  At my house it was dropping lighting bolts like Zeus, and raining hard enough that you couldn’t see a quarter mile.  At the park, 4 miles away, it was bright and sunny.  At the barn, a half-hour before, it had been hailing.

Huey smelled the apples before he could see them.  He had his dinner hay all lined up in the bag, and was going to town.  I stepped into his stall.  He paused and looked at me, and turned back to the hay.  I watched the Possibility of Apples percolate down to his brain stem and interrupt the Hay Circuit.  He looked back at me.  An ear came forward.  He looked at the hay, and made a feint towards it, but stalled out halfway there and came to investigate the Possibility of Apples.  And they were zipped up tight in the pockets of my slicker.  I can only wonder what he’d have done with the aromas pouring through the orchard store.  Probably vanished in a puff of smoke, he would have.

On the way home, the polka-dot red and green trees, the rainstorm moving off across the Holyoke Range, and over it all, the biggest rainbow I’ve ever seen.

I wish I could see what Marge Piercy would say.


Always the sky is blue here. Yep. Always.



I am being a very Good and Patient Horse now.  I am having to be in my stall always. It has my own door to my own paddock and that is good, and Topaz has been Making Eyes at me and that is good, but it is not as good as riding with my rider, and going out in the paddock and racing around.  There has been cool weather and wind, and you know what that does to us horses.  It makes us Wild Horses.  We are racing around and showing our hoofs to the sky horses when there is cool wind!!!!

But I am not being a racing around and showing my hoofs to the sky horse.  That is because my leg owie is still there.

Last week, when we got some very good cool wind coming, I woke up from a nap and it was not time for breakfast yet, but you know what time it was?

It was time to be a Wild Horse.

I said Topaz!!!  Rooster!!!  

These are the other horses that are lucky to have our own doors and our own paddocks.  They are much older than me, but I know that means sometimes they are wiser, and they are not that old.

So I said TOPAZ!!! WAKE UP!!!!   ROOSTER!!!! WAKE UP!!!! It is time to be the racing around horses!!!!!!!

And they said Huey, what are you yelling about?

So I said Feel the wind!  It is cool!  The leaves are making noise!  It is time to be WILD HORSES.  You are not that old, you still know how to be wild!

And they said You are right Huey!! It is time to be Wild Horses!!!  Let’s go!!!!!!

And then we had a great time, we were all running back and forth and Rooster kicked his hoofs up and said You chickens can’t do this! And then Topaz said Who is a chicken, Rooster? And she kicked her heels up.  And then they both said You are so big on the Wild Horses Huey, let us see what you have.

So I kicked the SKY.  

I can kick clouds, you know.

They are way up in the sky, but when I kick, I know how to kick.  And I kick those clouds and those clouds say Oh No! It is HUEY!  We had better run away!!! 

I kick those clouds away..

Topaz and Rooster both said I was the best kicker EVER.

That is something, because they are both ancient horses.  They would know.

Then my rider came to do that thing with the hot and the cold and that nasty tasting paste and the crest scratching and stuff.  But she was talking to Laura and Laura told her I was kicking and racing around like a Wild Horse.

I was proud.

But then they were talking a lot, talk talk talk talk.

And now you know what happens?

My Private Door?

It is CLOSED at night.

I said Rider.  What happened to my private door? I like to poop outside at night.  It makes my stall less icky.

But she said Huey. I heard you had a party.

And I said Yes! It was a very good party!!!

But she said Huey. You cannot have any parties right now.

Well.  How do you like that?  I am a bored horse, and here is my rider, telling me I cannot have any parties??!!!

I made that Special Noise with my nose so that my rider would know I was not happy, and I gave her the Stink Eye.

She said Do not bother with that noise and the Stink Eye, Huey.  You cannot have parties because it makes your leg owie worse.

I said You are being fussy.

She said I am not being fussy.  I am being smart.  I want to ride you soon, Huey.  And if you are making parties and kicking the sky, it will be longer before we can ride.

Well.  Maybe that is a point.  But I said You know I can kick the sky?!!?

And she said Huey, you kick the clouds and make them run away.  I know all kinds of things about you.  You are the Wonder Horse.

So I said I am still the Wonder Horse?  Elvis said I was not.

But she said You are always the Wonder Horse.  But you cannot kick anything until that leg owie is all better.  Please.  I really want to go riding again soon.  I miss you.

I miss her too, so I said OK.

Then, today, my rider brought her Person.  I knew it was time for the nasty medicine and stuff, and it was.  But then, guess what she had?

I will give you a Hint.

It made a crinkly sound.

Carrots do not make a crinkly sound.  They just smell really good. 

Apples do not make a crinkly sound either.  They smell good and taste even better.

There is only one thing I know that makes a crinkly sound.

That is a peppermint.

Peppermints are the best things in the world.  They are better than carrots, and apples.  They are even better than grass.  And hay.

So I said Rider.  I am hearing a crinkly sound.  Does that mean you are having a peppermint?

And guess what she said?

She said Yes!!!!!!  She said I am having a peppermint, Huey! And if you are putting your head down so I can trim your bridle path, you are having a peppermint too!!

And I DID.

It was so good.  It makes a smell that is making all the hair on my mane say Yay!!!  And it makes a taste that is making all my legs want to dance around. And it is crunching in my teeth, which are good, because the dentist came out last week.

So then I am saying Rider!!!  I will have ANOTHER peppermint!!!!

But she is saying Huey.  I am putting these boots on your first.

Those boots smelled nasty.  The rider said this is because they are new.  And she said they have a fuzzy lining to make them nice on my fetlocks.  And they did.

And I said Rider!! Where is my peppermint!!!

Then my rider’s Person stepped up and I thought he had a peppermint on his hand.  I moved forward as far as I could.  There were those pesky cross ties, but I know I am stronger than they are, really!  And my rider looked at them and told her Person he had to come closer to give me that peppermint.  And he did.

It was just as good as the first one.

Then we had to go on a walk.  Now, we are all the time doing a boring walk on the piece of road.  There are scary cars that I can hear but I cannot see.  And there is grass that my rider lets me eat some times and that is good. 

So I said OK I will go on a walk.  But I want another peppermint.

My rider said You can have one when we get back to the barn.

So then I made my fastest walk so that we would get back to the barn fast.  But my rider said NO and made me walk in circles.  She said I had to go slow!!!!!

That is not fair, telling me there is a peppermint at the barn and then making me go slow.

I am a fast horse.  I can jump but I jump fast. 

But she made me walk slow.  Like a boring old horse that is not a fast jumping horse.

And then I saw the barn and I said Yay!!! Peppermint!!!! but that rider said Not until we get inside Huey.  So I said OK.

And I got one, and then I got my boots on and I said I should have another peppermint now too.  And I got one.

And then I went back in my stall and dinner was there, but my rider said if I cooperated with her when she put the Collar of Shame on, I would get another peppermint.

I hate the Collar of Shame.  But a peppermint.  That is different.  So I put my head down and I did not yank it around or put it up in the air or even try to eat my hay.

And then there was that crinkly sound I like so much.

I tried to get that peppermint right away! 

But my rider said Huey.  You have to wait for me to get the wrapping off.

I said I do not care about the wrapping.  Please give me the peppermint.

She was very fumbly, but I got it.  And that was good!!  And all the other horses were coming back from the show that we couldn’t go to because of the leg owie, and some of them said I got ribbons!!! But I just said I got  a bunch of peppermints!!!!

I will stand in those ties forever, if it means I can get peppermints!!

Good Things and Not Good Things.


Well, some things are good and some things are bad.  The good things are this: I have a new stall!  My new stall is HUGE which is right, because I am a HUGE horse!!!  It is huge, and I have my own door so I can go outside any time I want to.  And there is a paddock that is all mine.  I do not have to share that paddock with any other horse.

Also, I have a new girlfriend.  Her name is Topaz.  I used to think she was just a very old horse and not good for anything but slobbering on perfectly good hay and ruining it, but I was wrong.  Now she lives next door to me and I think she is cute.  And unlike Tango, she does not try to boss me around all the time.

Then, my rider is coming by two times a day now!  And I am getting a lot of scratches!!!  So that is nice. Also, my leg owie is getting a little better.  My rider says so.

Here is the not good stuff.  My rider is making me take a very nasty medicine.  She says it is being good for my leg owie.  I do not know.  What I do know is that it is tasting NASTY.  And it is making other things taste nasty too!  It even made an apple taste nasty!!!  How unfair is that?  I saw that thing too, it is being a very long time since I am having that nasty medicine, but when my rider was pulling it out of her pocket, I was seeing it and saying Oh No.  I am not eating that stuff!! And I am putting my head way up in the air!!!

But my rider is saying Huey, I know it is icky.  But it is good for your leg, and I am missing going riding with you so much and I am wanting to make that leg owie better soon!! So we can go have fun together soon!!  And I am thinking that this is making the rider sad, so I am putting my head down like a Good Horse and opening my mouth even though I hate that nasty medicine.  And then she is saying Thank you Huey, and she is giving me an apple.  But that is when I found out that nasty medicine made my apple taste bad too.  Then I am being sad, but my rider is hearing me and taking me to go eat some grass, and that is making that bad taste go out of my mouth.

Also, even though I am not working like a real horse, I am having to do very boring things with my rider.  All the time now we are going in that little ring and she is holding onto the lead rope that I am not being able to buck and run around like I want to, because she says it is making my leg owie worse.  And instead of racing around, I am having to go this way and go that way and stop and back up and come forward and go that way.  I am also having to play the Hide Your Hiney game.  This means when my rider points at my butt I have to move it out of the way behind my shoulders, and I have to do that fast because otherwise she is smacking my butt with the rope snake.

I do not like to get my butt smacked with the rope snake, so I move it very fast!!!  But it is boring.  She says when I am better at paying attention and doing things fast, not just the Hide Your Hiney, but all of it, then we will be doing something more fun.

I do not see why we cannot do that fun thing now.

And, I am liking my own private paddock, but I am not so happy that I do not go out to my old paddock.  I think I should get both.  Every morning, the other horses go out to the paddocks and I say Hey! You take me too!! but those people are not listening to me.  They are saying No Huey, you have to stay here.  But I am saying I do not want to stay here!  And they say You have to.  And then we argue until my rider comes and makes me eat some more nasty medicine.

But that all is not being the WORST.

I am telling you what is the WORST.

The WORST is this.

My new stall is in a different part of the barn. It is right next to the cross ties.  I can look over and see Clay, and he makes faces at me and then he opens his door because he can.  I cannot open my door because it is locked.  But even that is not the WORST.

The WORST is that the ties are where all the horses get brushed and get their tack put on.  I know.  I have been brushed and gotten my tack on on those ties a BUNCH of times.  And I am still getting brushed, but I am not getting my tack on, because I am not going riding with my rider because of that leg owie.  And the other morning, my rider showed up and made me eat the nasty medicine, and then she gave me a little scratch, and then she said Huey.  I am having to ride another horse today.  And I am not paying any attention because I am also getting some grain.

But then I am paying attention!!! And this is because there is my rider, and she is walking into the barn with another horse, and guess who that horse is?

Right.  It is ELVIS.

And this is the WORST part:  I am having to stand there locked up in my stall without any trip to the paddock or running around or anything, and I am having to watch my rider brushing ELVIS and putting tack on him.

I am being a Strong and Brave Horse, mostly.  Everyone says so.

But I am not being that brave.  I cannot be believing my eyes, that I have to watch Elvis get brushed and tacked by my rider.

I said Elvis.  You had better not be any Bad Horse today.  You had better be taking care of my rider.

And he said Huey. I am not ever any Bad Horse.

But I said Yes you are sometimes.  That time you tore up my jacket, that was being a Bad Horse.  And that is my rider.

And do you know what he said then?

I cannot be believing this either.

He said I do not want your rider to ride me.

I said What? How could you not want MY rider to be riding you?!?!

Then he was a very Bad Horse because he said Your rider is not being a fun rider Huey.  She is huge.  Much bigger than the other riders I get.  And she is not a good rider either.

And I said Elvis, you are not being the horse to be saying this kind of thing.  She is a VERY good rider, I know this because have taught her to ride!!!

But he said Yes, Huey, you taught her to kick my side all the time to make me go sideways, like I am deaf there.  And she is too bouncy when we canter.

So I said That is because you do not have a Nice Smooth Canter like I do, Elvis. You should work on that.

But he was mean and he said I still do not want your stinky rider to ride me.

Stinky rider?  My rider?  Stinky?!?!  She is not stinky!  She smells VERY good!

And then he was VERY mean and he said You just stay there standing around like a pasture puff Huey, while I get ready to go out and work.  For your stinky bad rider.

Then I was very sad.  He is right.  I am all the time now standing around like a pasture puff, and I should be being the Good Horse and working.  And I miss going out with my rider too.

I was so sad I put my head down and leaned against the wall.  And then my rider said I will be back Elvis, I have to go see Huey, and she just left him there in the ties.  

And she came into my stall and said Huey, what is going on?

So I said It is nothing, rider.  Elvis said you were not a very good rider.

And she said Huey, all the time you are saying I am not a very good rider.  And you are right!  I am still learning!

So I said It is not fair that Elvis is going out with you.  I want to go out with you!  I am sad that I am a pasture puff horse standing around all the time.  I am bored. And I am having to watch you going out with other horses.

And do you know what she said?

She said It is OK Huey.  I am missing you too.  And we are going to be riding together again as soon as that leg owie is all gone.  And Elvis is going to help me be a better rider for when I get to go out with you again.  So that is a good thing.  I am not standing around being a pasture puff rider, and getting even worse!  I am going to be getting better! Like last winter!

Well, she was right.  Last winter she was riding another horse because it was too icy for us to go outside, and when she started riding out with me again in the spring, she was a better rider.  So I guess that is OK.

But I was still sad watching her tack up ELVIS and take him out.  But then Laura came in, and guess what she said?

She said Huey, you should not have to watch this.

And she had a BAG FULL OF HAY!!!!  It was my lunch only early.  I got to have my lunch before every other horse in the barn.

So that was being a good thing too.

I am hoping that owie goes away SOON because I am bored and I am not wanting to share my rider with any other horse.


I Want Jetson Technology


I don’t mean the flying cars.  Those sound like a good idea until you stop and think about how many lousy, aggressive, and/or inattentive drivers there are on the road.  It’s bad enough that an idiot who answers a text message while powering down the road at 10 to 15 miles over the speed limit can endanger any other drivers in their vicinity.  Just think of what could happen if that same idiot was piloting a flying car while texting.  Could bring down cars in the air, cars on the road, low-flying aircraft, or could power that boat right through your bedroom window.

Or that moron that seems incapable of maintaining a consistent speed?  The one driving in the 50mph zone who slows down to 35 for no apparent reason, then speeds up to 60 and then drops back to 40 for a mile or so?  They’d still be doing that…only they’d be doing it vertically too.  Whipping along anywhere from 20 to 300 feet in the air, randomly, while slowing down and speeding up, also randomly.

No thanks.  I’ll pass on the flying cars.

I also don’t mean the food cubes that show up, get nuked, and turn into full three course dinners in the microwave.  We’ve had those for years.  They’re called TV Dinners, and when I was six years old, I thought that the little tray of mystery meat with gravy, and the separate tray of mashed potatoes, and the third tray with the cobbler were the epitome of Haute Cuisine.  Then I grew taste buds.

I would like the robot that spends all day tidying the house.  Except that it would probably bang into the furniture quite a bit, and try to make my bed when I’m taking a nap, and I can see the cat getting all excited about the opportunity to chase the thing about.  The more I think about the robotic maid, the more I think of the sound of breaking glass and china.

The notion of a robot that will play with my cat actually sounds pretty good.  The technological challenges are significant.  My cat prizes Randomness.  Any stick-and-feather game, any ball game, any catnip mouse game that becomes in the least bit predictable loses his attention immediately.  That, and he also apparently prizes the ability to draw blood.  The best option, from his standpoint, would be for me to simply provide a steady stream of actual living mice for him to chase, kill, and eat.  Buster Kitty isn’t terribly domesticated.  I, however, have some ethical obligations to procuring another animal just so that animal can be terrorized and then killed.  Which, face it, is what Buster Kitty really wants from a Satisfying Playtime Experience.  I wouldn’t have any objection, however, to a really random robot with a Real Flesh And Blood cover, so that Buster can sink the claws and fangs and scratch that Feline Itch to draw blood.   The ability to deliver a blood-curdling scream on a random basis after a particularly quick hit with the claws or fangs would be a plus.  As would the ability for scientists to point out this highly valuable yet non-controversial use for cloning technology.

But what I really, really, really want is a Portable Force Field.

I want this because I have a nasty, skanky, truly hateful juniper tree right outside my back door, and right next to my assigned parking spot.  It’s 50 feet tall, and is proof that even 70 or 100 years ago, the tendency to engage in absurd and short-sighted thinking when choosing landscaping elements was every bit as prevalent as it is today. I mean, it’s not like it’s news on the Botany Front that juniper trees grow to be enormous, and a solid ten minutes of reasoned thought is going to have to yield the conclusion that they probably should not be planted six feet from the house.

The part that I can forgive is planting this damn thing right next to the parking spot, because in all likelihood, when it was planted, there weren’t family cars to be parked.

The part that I absolutely cannot forgive ever is the Bright Idea to plant a damned dioecious tree anywhere, especially not when a monoecious tree was a viable possibility. The combination of the words “dioecious” and “juniper tree” mean that this vile thing drops a nonstop cascade of crap, virtually all year round, directly onto my car.

Enough pollen to turn the car yellow? Check.

Scaley-type needles, plummeting down year-round onto the car and into my garden, where they change the PH of the soil and get tangled up in my tarragon and thyme so that I have to pick through them carefully before using them? Check

Needles coated in sufficient resiny sap to adhere to any surface, including clean glass? Check.

Bright blue berries that shower down and make technicolor splats all over my finish?  Check.

Every time I park the car at this time of the year, I am driving over so many of those blasted berries that the entire back of the house smells like a gin and tonic, with an emphasis on the “gin”.

That would be sufficient, as they say, just to shower the ground with these things and create an aromatic reek, and muck up my paint job and change the PH of my garden soil.

But there’s more.

Because these bloody berries are some kind of delicacy for the neighborhood avians.  So you can take all of the above, and combine it with a thick paste of bird guano.

My car is one of the few in the neighborhood that is always twice as filthy after a big rainstorm than before, thanks to the rain powering down all of that yuk from the tree PLUS making it marginally more desirable for the birds to roost there.

I own a car cover, and back in the day before I was having to nursemaid my horse through a leg injury twice a day at the barn that is 15 minutes away, one-way, while the semester was getting off the ground…back in the day when I had ten minutes to call my own, I used my car cover religiously, and was happy in the knowledge that my paint finish was not sustaining permanent damage from this blasted conifer and it’s feathered cronies.

Now, the thought of spending 15 minutes boiling a kettle of water and shepherding all the junk I need to haul around to the barn in pursuit of Equine Leg Health PLUS spending five minutes each on either end of the journey  messing with the car cover just saps my will to live.

It’s not like I can get synergies, either, by – say – uncovering the car while I wait for the water to boil.

That is because even five minutes of exposure under that wretched tree are enough to coat my vehicle with berry ook, needles, and bird crap.  No, really. FIVE. MINUTES.  That’s all it takes.

So I’ve resigned myself to driving the sort of car that reckless youths would write “WASH ME” in the grime – if they could penetrate that sappy, resiny finish, which they can’t, because if they couldn’t it would mean it wasn’t half the pain in the ass it is to clean off – and waiting for either the end of these vexing twice-daily trips to the barn, or the end of Juniper Berry Season.

And what I really want (other than for this tree to vanish) is a Portable Force Field.  I want to point my stick at the car, press a button, and have an invisible field cover the car to keep the berries, needles, and bird crap off of it.  I realize it needs another feature too:  it’s got to be able to vaporize that stuff in a flash, because otherwise, when I turn off my Force Field, all that crap will just drop back onto my car.

That bloody tree is going strong, even at its advanced age.  No doubt the Jetson Technology will come on board long before the nasty thing gives up the ghost.  If I weren’t living in a condo, I’d just have the damn thing cut down and replaced with some other tree that doesn’t shed constantly.  I’m sure they are out there.

Ten Minute Gripe.


It hasn’t been the Week From Hell here.

It’s been the Week From Heck.

I think someone has put the Ancient Chinese Curse on me: May You Die the Death of a Thousand Paper Cuts.

Last week I learned from Vet Number Two that Huey’s “leg owie” is a suspensory injury.  This is not good. There are things that are worse, but this is sort of the Second Worst Common Thing that could happen.  We do not say the name of the First Worst Common Thing. It’s a five letter word, starts with the letter C.  Don’t any of you go saying that word either.

A suspensory injury, roughly considered, is like a leg sprain.  And like human leg sprains, there is a range of stuff that falls into that category…everything from the sprain I got last month when I was standing on slick round rocks in the ocean and discovered that the pinchy thing on my foot was not a piece of seaweed, as I had thought, but a small crab attempting to eat my toe. I screamed, of course, like I was about to die, levitated in the air, came back down and sprained my ankle on the landing.  The crab was at least as frightened as I was and probably still hasn’t dared emerge from under its rock.  So that was a pain, I had to ice it on the boat coming back, elevate it, and then wrap it, but I was also able to keep going.

On the other hand, there’s the sprain I got back in 1998 when I stepped “wrong” somehow off one stair tread onto another and heard (as did those around me) a pop like a gunshot and had my body explode into a burning red fire in which I was surprised to find a shower of golden fireworks.  I thought that sort of thing was limited to cartoons, but it was not.  There was no question of walking, limping, crutching, or any sort of independent personal ambulation for several days while my leg inflated like a black dirigible from the tips of my toes all the way up to my knee and my foot started to go numb.  I had to wear one of those ski-boot contraptions for three months for that one, and still have problems in that ankle.  In the words of my orthopedist at the time:  You would have been better off if you had broken your ankle.  For which I thanked him politely and said I would take that under consideration next time I decided to get injured.

Huey’s suspensory is like that.  His sprain is of the “I can get around mostly if I ignore the pain and swelling” type.  And while I, personally, am a huge fan of that perspective when it comes to my own body, I have zero tolerance for that in my horse.  I know exactly what happens when you don’t let ligaments rest long enough to heal properly.  I know this because I have that going in two ankles, one knee, a hip, and a wrist.  The good news is that I, personally, unlike my horse, don’t need to carry a large person around on my back while I’m running.

As it turns out, Huey also seems to be a huge fan of that when it comes to his body.  His line seems to be “Dammit, woman, I’m a horse, not a china figurine.”  He wants to be out and about, and this weekend, when I was working with him on the lead line at a walk he elected to demonstrate his perspective by launching himself into the air, all four feet off the ground, landing, throwing a buck, and trying to break into a canter.  Which, obviously, was not comfortable, because when I shrieked NOOOOO!!!  and then threw out the Blanket of Calm and instructed him to walk, he cooperated.  

The Thousand Paper Cuts on this one is that his vet went on vacation right about the time Vet Number Two ultrasounded his leg.  I’m a great rehab patient (other than constantly trying to push things for myself) because I prefer to have clear and detailed instructions about What To Do and I stick to that like a pin.   My number one concern with Huey right now is getting the swelling out of that leg.  Sooner the swelling goes, sooner the healing starts.  Vet Number Two suggested wrapping the limb with quilt batting and vetrap and pouring alcohol into this every evening.  Turns out Huey hates this.  Is it because it stings? He doesn’t have any open sores there.  Is it because he hates the feeling of the dripping down his leg?  Probably – he would stand there and stomp his foot (yikes) trying to knock the liquid out.  A week of this and he wasn’t appreciably better.  In the meantime, I collected advice from Vet Two, my trainer, and the horse’s chiropractor.  Unfortunately, none of it lined up neatly.  A lot of people suggested cold, but we’re talking a three week old injury at this point, and in people, I don’t think cold would be the main therapy.  But is that the same for horses?  How much cold? What else?  Is any exercise OK?  Does he have to stay in his stall?  Will that help, or will it make things worse in the long run?

I knew Vet Number One would be able to answer all of that definitively…but he was on vacation.  In the meantime, I had to do what I thought would not hurt but would not necessarily help and struggle against that powerless feeling of uncertainty.

In the meantime, hipsters have been infesting my lawn.  I came home from one trip to the barn to find one of them (hipsters) sitting in what I suspect was intended to be a Romantic State, picking a guitar in a Disconsolate Way, or possibly a Romantic Way, or possibly a Poetic Way.  I don’t know.  I did wonder who we was expecting to impress with this behavior, and hoped that she or he would pass by soon and bring this drippy scene to an end.  None of us had any luck, evidently, because it continued for another two hours.  Really.  I found myself thinking “Don’t you have a job?” like I was a 70 year old curmudgeon.  I also found myself thinking “You kids get off my lawn!” like a different 70 year old curmudgeon.

I have never, ever, in my entire life, had such an overwhelming urge to hurl a water balloon at someone.  Ever.  If this turns into a regular thing, I am totally going to start keeping balloons on hand.

The hipsters have also been picking flowers from my rose bushes, Dumpster Diving in our trash can, hanging out and talking loudly into the night every night, and last night I was awakened at 3am by one of them wailing in a disconsolate manner “Where is my paperwork?” over and over and over and over at the top of her lungs.  Talk about a Scene of Existential Angst.  I felt that she ought to meet our Lawn Guitar Guy.  They could be angsty together.

Woke me out of a dead sleep, that did.  There was someone with her, talking a great deal more quietly.  I was on my way to get the phone to alert the police to this disturbance – I mean, it was LOUD – when I could hear Party of the Second Part quite a bit more clearly and realized that he was the police, and was escorting this individual into the cop car and taking her away.

In the meantime, the school term has swung into high gear for me.  I’m teaching a couple of graduate courses, mostly on line, but there are some class meetings, the first of which was Tuesday.

Now, we have some ongoing IT Issues at my school, the result of which is that this term, we’ve both changed the learning tech platform and the platform for recording in the classroom.  I won’t say anything more about this other than just that change is responsible for approximately 750 of the 1,000 Paper Cuts.

Compounding this, I got a call from Roy on Tuesday about ten minutes before I headed out to go teach my first class.  This will come as a surprise, I think, but a lot of professors get serious stage fright and cold feet when it comes to actually standing up in the classroom and talking.  This is a major occupational hazard, for some reason.  Roy gets it really bad.  For the week before the term, he reminds me of nothing more than Alan Rickman playing Alexander Dane in GalaxyQuest, when he flies into a state of Existential Despair right before heading out to address the fen at a con.

I don’t have this issue.  Give me 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 2 hours, I can happily go up and Address the Masses and never worry at all about what I’m going to say, how I’m going to keep track of time, or any of that stuff.  It’s not like you’re asking me to stand up in front of an audience of two and sing for pete’s sake.  That prospect is absolutely petrifying.

So I don’t have stage fright, but I did need to get organized and go back over the directions for using the recording software in the classroom, because a lot of my students take the class 100% online, and if I blow it with the recording computer, they miss the lecture.  Not fair.

In the middle of this, my cell phone rings, and it’s Roy.  Foolishly I chose to answer it.  “Uh,” he said. “A big piece of the ceiling just fell down.  I thought you would want to know.”

And then he waited.

What?!?!  What?!?!?!  What?!?!?!

I finally found my words:  “How big?”

Answer: “about a foot”

Next words: “Is it wet?

Answer: “I don’t know.  I’ll go check and call you back.”

Now, under ordinary circumstances, there is nothing I like more than dealing with the need to either perform household repairs or find someone to do so.


Why not?  I don’t mind doing things myself, if I can, but in this area, contractors don’t call you back.

You’d think that when you call a business and leave a message to the tune of “I would like to give you some money” that this would elicit some return interest.

Not here, mateys.

Here, you can grow old and die and mummify if you wait for someone to call you back.

Here, you have to nag.

I don’t like nagging.  I have much more interesting things to do with my time.

And, trust me, this is my problem.  Roy and I have a fantastic division of labor in the house.  He’s got the routine stuff like dirty laundry, dishes, and taking out trash and recycling locked down like a pro.  Overflowing toilets, sticky doors, HVAC filters, routine major maintenance, chimney sweeping, and chunks of plaster falling out of the sky live in my domain.

So there I am, ten minutes before class, now worrying both about the recording software and about the prospect of coming home to find a massive patch of lath exposed on the ceiling of my 115 year old rowhouse.

Fortunately, the recording came off just fine, and when I returned home, I found that “a big chunk of plaster” was actually a smallish-section of popcorn finish that had peeled off of the plaster ceiling, which remained intact.  No plaster, no lath.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that more of this finish is going to be peeling off in the near future, and in the process of researching WTF on that, I learned a new word: calcimine.

It’s a special pain in the ass thing they cooked up in the early part of the 20th century.  Not as much of a pain in the ass as lead paint.  But on that same spectrum.  Look it up if you’re interested.  I have to go nag my painting contractor for a bid.  And put another full layer of bandaids on the 999 paper cuts I”ve collected already.

Canada Falls

Here’s one of my pictures of Niagara Falls, because it’s turning out to be one of those weeks.