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April 2008 Archives

April 1, 2008

3 dog day


The dogs seem at last to have sorted out their canine social stuff and the boys have accepted Hattie as a pack member. Each day we do a little more time together, both outside and in. She half chases half follows Scout everywhere, while Beckett asserts his independence and pack leader status by hanging back a bit. Several times she's gone right up to him and he's said, close enough sister, with a growl or body language, and immediately she sank down in front of him in a submissive posture. But he's indulging her more each day: she likes to lick both of the boys on the face or ear. They tolerate it. It's so much fun to watch them sort out their boundaries and tolerances. I suppose people do about the same thing, only more verbally. But I wonder. You can learn an awful lot about non-verbal communication watching the dogs. It was really hard to get them in the frame together for a photo, they were running about so enthusiastically.

We still have to pen Hattie in at night or she stays up all night playing with stuff. She's very attached to material objects, so as she gets more freedom around the house we're having to be careful about leaving shoes and things on the floor. When she first showed up outside, she stole one of Gary's work gloves and an old rusted grease gun out of the garage. The grease gun is still on the side steps where she left it--neither Gary nor I can bear to throw it away, since it was such an unlikely, sad toy but it is so Hattie. she's grown so much I can't believe it: I was out of town for 4 days and when I came back she was visibly bigger, maybe 35 pounds now.

foggy Arkansas
Last weekend I was in Arkansas at a performance festival on the side of a mountain, staying in a cabin. It was lovely but way too cold, also too much rain--and they have some serious flood warnings up there. It was a surprise somehow to get out of the car into sweet old humid hot southern LA. And a relief.

Our azaleas finished their show while I was gone, but some Louisiana irises are coming up to make up for it. We have attracted some indigo and painted buntings, so swatches of color flash up here and there. I may need to rename Grey Gardens since the "grey" isn't exactly descriptive.

Here by the way are some of Beckett's shots we took on his day of posing with azaleas. He wasn't too happy about sitting still, poor guy. He's getting to be quite the old man, but he'll always be my little B.



This weekend is the Great ST Gathering in Savannah!!! I've been so busy I have only started thinking of it today. And now it's time to pack, since I have a full day tomorrow and leave early Thursday AM. I have to attend a conference kind of simultaneously that happens to be in Savannah this weekend as well in a sublime coincidence, but it looks like events don't conflict much if at all.

April 11, 2008

back from Savannah and the river's rising

Back from Savannah and the ST Gathering--what a lovely time. I was sort of simultaneously attending the Southern States Communication Assoc. (SSCA) conference, so I didn't do much in the way of tourism in between ST events. It worked out rather well.

I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express for location and price--it was the SSCA overflow hotel so I got a conference rate. Can't say I'd recommend it. The rooms were fresher and nicer than most Holiday Inns, mainly because the hotel opened just recently. But the hot water was out for most of the time I was there, which was no fun at all. The management didn't seem to have much of a clue about dealing with problems like that. I would have moved, but Savannah was pretty well booked up. At least I got a reduction on the bill, but I would have preferred hot water.

After the pre-gathering cocktail party, which was lovely but strange--seeing all these folks, most of whom had heretofore been disembodied, if vibrant, voices, I went to Paula Deen's restaurant, The Lady & Sons, the first night, with colleagues and students from SSCA. I seem to have missed this cultural moment, since I had no idea who she was and what all the fuss was about. We were in a party of 20 and sat upstairs. Our waitress was delightful--she sang Billy Holliday like she was channeling her when she took our request for a song. But the food was pretty mediocre: I had much better fried green tomatoes at a little roadside joint on the way to Arkansas a couple of weeks ago. There was no tartness to them, and the batter was gloppy. The crab cakes were doughy. The meal was so heavy I still felt full the next morning. But it was fun to be with such fine folks for dinner. Something bit me (oddly enough, mostly on the scalp) during the cocktail party so I went around scratching all weekend.

Friday I did conference all day, then onto the dinner at the Gingerbread House. I was pretty overwhelmed by all the folks, felt a little shy, cursing myself for how bad I am with names and trying to match people up when I haven't been on ST enough lately to recognize so many of the names even, so it was good to have a camera to hide behind and take photos for awhile.

At the Gingerbread House dinner: it's all a blur, but that's Kim on the right in the light suit, who is the ST Blogging Queen among other things, and responsible for me having this blog (thanks, Kim!)

But as the evening went on and I saw some folks I knew, like Kathy and Shannon, and met some I feel like I know, like Kim and Palma and Bob the Navigator, I found myself having a great time--and I finally met Pauline and Steve, whom I admire so much for getting the whole thing going, designing and maintaining it so well. I made some new friends too--Barb especially. Slow Trav is just an amazingly generous community of folks. I couldn't help but notice how predominant us middle-aged women are in the community--the very active ones, especially. Not to say there aren't all sorts of interesting people on ST--there certainly are--but at the Gathering especially I felt like my demographic was running the show. And you know, I like that. It might have been all the presecco I was drinking, but I felt pretty fine basking in the presence of so many funny, salty, wise, generous, interesting women. And several similarly wonderful men, a few lovely younger people, too.

Next day I melted down a bit at the hotel over the hot water thing since they decided it was my room and to move me after midnight when I was already in bed. and then there was no hot water where they moved me....
oh well, that's all (cold) water under the bridge. I slept in then drifted over to the conference, then went for a walk to get some decent coffee, and, lured by drums that turned out to be for a South African dance troupe from Soweto, I wandered into an international street festival the Savannah College of Art and Design was throwing. It cheered me considerably. I bought a print of a ghost hovering over trees to give to Brenda who organized the Ghost Tour for later that day, by way of apologizing for my delinquency in paying her for my reservation. I sampled lots of different nibbles of things prepared by international students, bought some earrings made by a sweet young woman from India. I wish Baton Rouge and LSU were more like SCAD--but it's really apples and, not even bananas, maybe apples and motorcars. But I 'd like us to have more of a walking around life, more prominence of the arts, more textures and things to walk around and admire. We are too much a car place, and I get tired of that.

Saturday evening the low-country boil at Fort Jackson got moved due to threatening weather, and I don't know how the planners got it all rearranged but it worked out perfectly.

The planners at the museum dinner: funny, salty, wise, generous, and incredible organizers

The trolleys picked us up at hotels and we were taken to the Savannah History Museum. We had the run of the place pretty much, with fiddle and banjo music and a buffet of food that included some really wonderful boiled spicy peel-and-eat shrimp that I overindulged in. There was an animated lecture by the museum director, mostly covering what went on during "the war of northern aggression" but also the Battle of Savannah in the revolutionary war (we were right on top of where it happened). And of course there were door prizes. I was the lucky winner of a bag of Canadian goodies: maple syrup, candies, maple mustard, etc., and the centerpiece, a bottle of ice wine. Sweet in every way, I was delighted. We continued on the trolleys to the Ghost Tour, which was pretty tongue-in-cheek but lots of fun, with our guide Omer, who was about as Savannah quirky as they come.

I love Savannah for its quirks. I got pan-handled for 42 cents. It was so specific I had to give it to him. I heard the most amazingly bizarre conversation standing in line to buy mosquito repellant at the CVS, about global warming and the war and god and asparatame. It's all, you know, connected.

Sunday morning I got up insanely early so I took a long walk, then nipped into a store that was open that sold pretty layered silk skirts made from recycled saris. They are made by Kariza Designs but they were a heck of a lot cheaper at the store than on the web site--also they had more variety in the store. Wasn't planning on shopping but couldn't resist. On to the brunch, which was at Vic's on the River. Palma and Brad made a very sweet ST history and tribute video montage that was shown, and gave us each a copy. I recognized more people on it than I thought I would. I had to leave just after the screening to catch my plane, but found myself wishing I'd had some more just hanging out time with the ST folks.

Home again and the first thing I noticed is how very high the river looks. I haven't gotten up the nerve to cross the road and climb up on the levee and look. We're over flood stage but that doesn't mean the levees will overtop. Still it is a little nervous-making, in view of the, um, events a few years ago with those bitches Katrina and Rita. Here's the National Weather Service warning that pops up on my Yahoo home page:

AM CDT FRI APR 11 2008

Ominous. I don't like this either.


They opened one of the spillways, the Bonnet Carre, the one that goes through Lake Ponchatrain and diverts water to the gulf--that's pretty rare.

I'll take some pictures if I work up the nerve to walk up there this afternoon.

levee expedition


Finally got the boots on and hiked up there. As we were walking I thought, maybe this is a trip to thank the levee. And when we got up top and saw the whole borrow pit full and the water even creeping up the concrete part of the foundation, I was thanking it all the more. We're fine, it won't go up over, but this is the highest I've seen it here, and Gary, who has been here a heck of a lot longer, says it is as high as he's seen since he can remember.

April 17, 2008

Hattie's escape from Grey Gardens

Weird bad karma around here lately: I didn't get a grant I didn't think I would get, but you never know how much you want something until it is denied. The difference was all my other grants have been to serve students and programs and facilities and research support (money for other people or stuff) but this one was to buy me some time to do a longer project--just me. Then the car stalled, just flat out stalled for no apparent reason--Gary was driving, and we were just going down the street. So now I suppose it will need some sort of thorough going-over. Then what I am starting to think of "Jindhal-nomics" began to make itself felt at work yesterday. If our governor does what I suspect he might, I get to say I told you so to a lot of people in the next several years, but that's about all the enjoyment I'll get out of it. His approval numbers are over 75%--this is what NPR said this morning at the very moment my radio alarm went off, so I woke up hearing just that sentence--
But I won't talk about work here. Argh. Stop it. Escape!

But see that's just what happened. When I got home Gary had been out in the yard trying to coax Hattie in for 2 hours. She had slipped her collar or something and just absolutely would not come. She had escaped, and some whim or mood made her part stubborn, part scared (I think). So I went to work on it. We tried umpteen times getting the other dogs to herd her in--Beckett gave it his all, and was nearly successful in herding her, but she slipped away. We tried treats. I tried to trick her--mistake, it made her more skittish. I pleaded, I spoke low and sweet, but she'd get within 10 feet and just sit down, and if I moved she'd run away. I almost had her, but then a car pulled up the drive, and she's terrified of cars so she bolted and ran away, this time going into the wooded overgrown strip that borders the cane field next door. I ran down the driveway and put my hand out to stop the car, which turned out to be our neighbor who could tell I was pretty pissed off and here she had only been bringing us some strawberries. I knew she wouldn't come while the neighbor was here--the neighbor is lovely but Hattie distrusts anyone but Gary and me. The neighbor stayed inside talking with Gary for 20 minutes or so, during which time I got more treats (and a beer for me), got Hattie close enough to get her interested in them and sat down in the driveway with a trail of treats leading to me. She's always less intimidated by sitting people. She got halfway to me on the treat trail and stopped, retreated. So I just lay down and stuck more treats on my leg and stomach. The driveway was pretty nasty and the mosquitoes were biting me and I still had my work clothes on, and somewhere in the last hour of trying I had gotten poison ivy on my left hand which itched like mad, but I didn't care, I just wanted her to come back. Of course just as she was about to come close out comes the neighbor and zoom, off goes Hattie. It was getting dark.

So we left the door open and I made a big show of feeding the other dogs and noticed she had gotten partway up on the porch. I made her a dish of food and went to the door and rattled it, but she ran away. So I brought it back in and sent Scout and Beckett out for one more attempt. And just like that she followed them in.

Whereupon she became her sweet affectionate self, following me around and wanting petting, eating her dinner with no fuss, and then falling into a deep, sweet puppy sleep while I picked burrs out of her ears and feet.

I don't know, she's a strange one. It will probably be years before she trusts us utterly, the way the boys do. I think part of her wanted to come, but some instinct that comes from whatever happened to her before she came here was directly opposed, and telling her to run, be wary, don't trust. You can't fix that overnight, and even the few months she's been with us is too short a time. Soon we will go to obedience school, but I'm afraid being with all the other people and dogs will freak her out too much. I will need to call the teacher and see what he says before we go. And she'll need a halter collar for everyday, something she can't slip, as well as the correction collar.

In retrospect I don't think she'd have gone far. She knows Grey Gardens is her place for food and shelter and even affection. But I could not bear the thought of her panicking at something like the neighbor's car, taking off and winding up at the petrochemical plant down the road, where no doubt some oversized vehicle would terrify her so much she'd run into the highway.... or since the coyotes have been displaced from the riverbank (it is up over the bank!) they are closer in these days, and she's still small... It's probably a good thing I had no children or I'd still have them locked in their rooms. How does anyone do that?

And later: although it was horrible at the time, lying down in the driveway with a beer and puppy treats on one's stomach had to look interesting to the neighbor. I hope that she was amused, really, I do.


April 23, 2008

critter talk

Today Gary spoke with the obedience trainer who suggested several potentially helpful things. He said that likely Hattie was either fending for herself or being ill-treated during the crucial period in a dog's development when she is learning About the World. It's not hopeless; she can learn better lessons to replace those, but it takes time and patience. We had sort of figured this out anyway, but it was good to hear a professional opinion, especially the "not hopeless" part.

But he said another thing that got to me: that we probably got her just in time, before she became a totally wild thing. Wild thing, those words.

He suggested that to help her get over her terror of cars, we take her and her dinner out to the car and feed her in it. He said she probably wouldn't eat for a couple of days, but if we could get her to associate good things with cars it could help. Okay, that makes sense and aligns with the successes we've had with her thus far, but what if she learns the inverse, that meals are scary because they happen in cars? So my adaptation will be to try it but only with one of the two meals a day--maybe that way she won't blame it on the food.

He also suggested that once we'd gotten her better with the car thing, we could take her to obedience classes but not participate--just let her watch from the sidelines at a distance. We'll see. My guess is she'll be fine with the other dogs but terrified of the people. So again Gary and I decided to adapt the advice: we'll get her used to a couple of people who are around here more or less regularly, first Moe, a really sweet fella who sometimes works with Gary or does odd fixes around the house. She's terrified of Moe and when he's around she runs to the top of the stairs and huddles there, so this will take some time. We will arm him with hot dogs. Once she accepts him, we'll add another person, and so on. Patience, one at a time. At the same time we'll start doing some of the basic obedience stuff with her just here, by ourselves, like sit, stay, come, and heel. I was doing this a bit a month or so ago but she wasn't quite ready, but now she may be--for one thing, she now knows her name, and she's watching us much more intently.

A lot of bother, yes, but there's something about this little dog that has gotten to both of us. It's weirdly existential, and somehow literary: I can't think of the night we first heard her outside, howling and yarping her misery in the cold rain, without thinking of King Lear and Edgar out in the storm, and the poor fool. Or of poor cold strange little Jane Eyre, abused in the orphanage. Or of when Jack London's White Fang is a puppy and crawling toward the light away from the den, where all his siblings starve to death. It breaks my damn heart.

Gary and I have resolved that insofar as it is within our capability, any abandoned creature who happens by Grey Gardens LA does not go away hungry: nobody leaves without a meal. (And I deeply understand why Edith Beale was feeding the raccoons loaves of Wonderbread in her attic in the original Grey Gardens--we're not so very far removed.) But I do draw a line at certain rodents, who after all can roam free in the cane fields and eat themselves fat, the better to feed the owls once the cane is mown.

Speaking of feeding the critters, I am now routinely purchasing great big bags of various bird food mixtures. We have so many visitors it's a chore to keep all the feeders filled, but we're hooked on watching them. A mama cardinal is sitting in her nest in the sweet olive tree next to the driveway. We have a new kind: we heard a whippoorwill the other night, then got a glimpse of him when he alit on the feeder that pokes into the window in the kitchen for a few seconds. We saw enough of him to be sure he's not a Chuck will's widow but the (rarer for these parts) whippoorwill. I put up 3 hummingbird feeders, and we're nowhere near peak, but they're beginning to trickle in.

We're planning a little expedition to Lake Martin to the Cypress Island Preserve, where in November 2006 I saw a pair of roseate spoonbills, the oddest and most outrageous birds I have ever seen. I was with some students in a boat on a swamp tour, and the guide tapped my shoulder and pointed, and just then they took off over the water flying in tandem, catching the light--just breathtaking, and since I didn't even know such a bird existed before that shoulder tap, it was like getting an incredible gift. As it turns out native Gary has never seen one, so we need to get the pirogue out into the swamp and fix that.


We've never made a trip to see any bird; we just sort of see what shows up here. We're not really birders, birdy people. Oh heck, maybe we are, but we're not very organized about it. No "life lists" and checking websites and enthusiast reports to see where to go to add such and such to any such list. Gary made a list of kinds we've seen at GGLA, but we lost the list. "Birder" conjures up a kind of organized approach, an ugly costume with vests and binoculars and such. We're more ornithological dilettantes.

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