Night sounds

“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.”

-Jack London, The Call of the Wild

Wolves were domesticated 12,000 to 15,000 years ago.The earliest ancestors of the breed of dog known as Beagles today are thought to have been used as hunting dogs in Greece as early as the 5th century B.C. Beagles were imported to the United States from Europe in the early 1870’s.

Lilly, our miniature beagle, spends the bulk of her life doing one of three things. Sleeping, begging for treats, or staring out into the woods from the safety of her fenced yard at home. Often, as she gazes longingly out into the woods beyond the fence, I notice a far-away look in her eyes as if she is remembering on some cellular level the ancestors from which she came.

You could say that Lilly is highly domesticated. In fact, she is about as far removed from being a wolf as a dog can be. She is a spoiled, noisy, floppy-eared baby who is afraid of things like wood ticks and hates being wet or cold. Which is why, on Monday night at dusk when she took off into the woods up at the lake, my sister and I were more than a little concerned. Lilly spent the night out in the woods. By morning, her happy Roo! Roo! had been replaced by an urgent Help! Help! and so, we walked for miles through thick woods trying to find her. By afternoon, she had stopped making any noises at all and we worried that she had gotten herself into something she couldn’t get out of.  Like a trap. Or a bear’s mouth. We worried that perhaps she’d become the main course for a litter of hungry wolf pups. One’s imagination runs wild when a beagle near a swamp gets too quiet.

She must have just been taking an afternoon nap because by evening, she was once again sending out her beagle S.O.S. She’s lucky she ended up with humans who know how to follow their instincts when it comes to being in the woods. Humans who pay attention to where the sun is in the sky before they go into the woods and know how to use a compass. Ones who actually know what poison ivy looks like. The next morning, those humans listened and walked. Then listened and walked some more. An hour later, Lilly was rescued. In the thirty-six hours she was gone, the only things that had dined on her were a few wood ticks and a very hungry army of gnats.

She’s home now. In the evening, as she dreams, she whimpers and runs from whatever scary things she seems to be remembering. Things like wood ticks, gnats, and the night sounds in the woods her ancestors, the wolves, understood. She would have made a lousy wolf. I am beginning to wonder if she’s even very good at being a beagle, frankly.

Luckily for Lilly, her very human pack has some pretty good instincts, too.







Eyes with which to see

It takes a long time to grow an old friend.

-John Leonard

We offer one another our “cheaters” to read menus these days.  After nearly fifty years of friendship from elementary school through emptied nests, it has finally come to this for all of us.  We are no longer girls, but moles. Or maybe we are bats.

Well, at least I am. I cannot wear my newest pair of bifocals to work on my laptop unless I want to rest my laptop on my chest.  My old pair of bifocals allows me put the computer on my lap where it belongs. Although I can see most other things more clearly with the new pair, I’m constantly searching for the older pair when it comes to working or writing. It gets worse. In order to drive in sunshine, I need to switch to a pair of old glasses I had tinted with lenses that are only supposed to darken in sunlight. The darn things don’t go back to clear until it is nearly time to go back outside which pretty much defeats the purpose of lenses that darken automatically if you ask me. I have to close one eye to read the time on the clock radio by the bed. Don’t ask me why that works. Without my bifocals, I can’t see a darn thing up close, but I can still see a turtle in the road a quarter of a mile ahead of me and pass the eye exam without any glasses when I get my license renewed. Go figure. All I know is that I took my eyes for granted until they went to pot.

I’m glad my old friends’ eyes aren’t any better than mine.  It allows us all to see each other and ourselves more gently than we ever did as girls or younger women. We take better care of each other now. Our scars and the laugh lines around our eyes tell our stories for us. The memories of who we were as girls are precious. Much of what we thought we knew for sure then has blurred with time. This is good. We were too sure for our own good anyway. That’s what we tell each other over dinner and glasses of wine.

It is good, at this age, to squint at menus and giggle like the school girls we were so long ago. To pass the cheaters across the table. To order more wine and linger over it just because we can. To be glad to share time with old friends.

Grateful, in the fifth decade of our lives, for the softened edges of our friendship.


Real news

He doesn’t know he’s a hummingbird.  At least, that’s what I think.

We have a pair of piliated woodpeckers who arrived in our woods a week ago. They are enormous. Imagine two black chihuahuas with wings and red mohawks.  I am fairly certain they are married because they sit in separate trees and squawk loudly at each other when they aren’t gorging themselves on my suet.

Most days, the one little hummer we have perches on top of the tall shepherd’s hook surveying his kingdom until one of them arrives to eat. Then, he moves to a nearby branch to watch. He seems particularly infatuated with Mrs. Woodpecker. He does not know that he doesn’t stand a chance with her.  It is clear that while she is often annoyed with her partner, she married for keeps.

In other news, we have a major tick problem around here. Lilly the beagle is a veritable tick magnet. She is also a bundle of nerves who not only checks herself for new ones but us, too, if we are sitting in the porch next to her. Her nose never lies. This is clearly why beagles are the breed used to sniff out drugs in airports and bedbugs in dormitories. The bad news is that while she is checking she is also doing a whole lot of snuffling. The good news? No ticks stay stuck long enough to be a problem for any of the mammals who live here.

I dodged crazy weather in the Twin Cities this morning as a line of severe storms came through. The sky turned eerily green and then it hailed mightily in several suburbs. On the morning news, one of the reporters advised any individuals stuck in their vehicles during the storm to make sure they were buckled in and as an added precaution, to wear any hockey masks or bike helmets they might have in their cars until the storm passed.

Only in Minnesota. Am I right?

It is June. Sweet, lovely, June. So far, at least here “up north” we have been lucky.  No high winds, buckets of hail, or pea-green skies. Just bickering woodpeckers, hummingbirds with big ideas, and a bumper crop of wood ticks.

But hey, if you have a hockey mask in the back seat of your car, leave it there.  It might come in handy. You can’t be too careful in June.

It must be true. I heard it on the news.


Last bird, first bird

One is the last. The other, the first.

We have two more newly minted high school grads in the family this week. Diplomas in hand, they are off to great, new adventures. We like graduations in this family. Next week, we will gather to honor and celebrate their achievements just like we have for the other ones who’ve reached the same milestone. They will do what high school grads do at open houses.  They’ll be polite and try to talk to their relatives when what they’d rather be doing is hanging with their friends.  We get it. Go on. Have fun with your friends. Soon, you will only see them during college breaks and eventually, those visits will probably become shorter and farther apart. That’s just what happens when you outgrow each other.

One chick is the last to leave the nest so her parents have seen this show twice before and know what’s ahead. They are happy for her and pretty pleased with themselves. The other one is the first bird to leave.  His parents are happy, too.  But they are just on the cusp of the stage of life when the house begins to empty out bit by bit and bird by bird.  We think we have all this time with children when they are small and then, in what seems like a flash, they are walking across that darn stage and launching into the vast unknown, wings flapping like crazy.  To those parents I say, “you’ll be fine.” And so will he.

In my generation, I was the first to graduate from high school and the first to go away to college. The generation before me, it was my aunt who was the first. Her parents were both high school graduates during a generation when that wasn’t a given. Back then, only those with the financial means to go even considered a college degree a possibility. My grandfather regretted not being able to go to college his whole life.  And so, in our family it was understood that while high school graduations were important and worthy of celebrating, it was what came after that truly mattered.

This is, in part, why it matters still, to these two new birds leaving the nest this week. They have taken for granted the fact that higher education was theirs for the taking because people who came before them that they know only from grainy photographs never did. Not for a single minute.  This shaped who they were. It has shaped the rest of us, too.

And so, when all of us with gray hair gather next week and eat too much food and make the new graduates stop long enough at the table just to say hello, there will also be a pair of happy ghosts standing off to the side smiling and listening to the laughter.

It is good to remember how we got here. Not take it for granted. Not for a minute.

Congratulations to Carolina Bather, Benilde-St.Margaret’s, Connor Ott, Graduate of Breck, and Lucas Ray, recent graduate of Purdue University.  Be proud, but humble. Be kind, but smart. Be happy, but safe. You are all loved more than you can possibly imagine by this wacky bunch of people you call your family.