Reggie


Sleepy dog

Although this contribution to the Photo Friday theme “Pet” is more than a week overdue, I purposefully waited until I got my new camera (a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28) to shoot a flash-free, indoor shot of Reggie in his usual “snooze” mode. Who could refuse a face like that?

Reggie on railtrail

It sometimes happens that I spend an entire day speaking to no one other than the dog, and then only rarely: just the two of us, without words.

The Abominable Snow-Dog!

When I say that neither snow nor rain stops intrepid dog-walkers, I mean it. The above image shows Reggie in his guise as the Abominable Snow-Dog on this morning’s walk, and this image shows the tell-tale hat and ponytail of the Abominable Snow-Dog-Walker.

Snow-hat with ponytail

Obviously I can’t shoot photos of the back of my own head, so thanks to J for snapping that second photo.

Steps to Echo Bridge

When Leslee, a mutual friend, and I decided to explore Hemlock Gorge on Sunday, I initially thought I’d ask if they’d mind my bringing Reggie, but I quickly reconsidered. Even if we’d figured out a way to carpool three women and a squirmy dog to the Gorge, there’d be the Echo Bridge steps to navigate.

Silk mill as viewed from Echo Bridge

Reggie has never been fond of steps: even when I adopted him in 1998, he was reluctant to climb stairs. When my then-husband and I owned a two-story house in Hillsboro, NH, Reggie could climb the carpeted steps, but he did so only reluctantly. At my parents’ house, it’s something of a production to get Reggie to climb the slick linoleum stairs to the basement apartment that serves as their guest room, and on the handful of times over the years I’ve tried to lure Reggie up open stairs–the kind with horizontal steps but no vertical step-backs, a style common at motels with outdoor stairways leading from one level to the next–he’s balked and downright refused. At dog-eye level, open steps look like no steps at all, and who but the most enthusiastic dog would actually believe you could climb from one level to another on thin air?

Charles River as viewed from Echo Bridge

In the past few years, now that Reggie has resolutely aged into the double-digits, stairs have become even more of a problem. Although glucosamine and chondroitin supplements have minimized his overall creakiness, it still takes a while to coax him up the slippery hardwood steps in J’s house, where a dog’s attention is as likely to be distracted by passing cats as it is to be focused on the scary steps at hand. Slowly, slowly, slowly Reggie and I climb the steps after every walk and bathroom outing–and now that Reggie is older, the frequency (and, sometimes, urgency) of bathroom outings has increased. But learning to respond gracefully to an inevitably aging dog offers many lessons in how to respond gracefully to an inevitably aging self, with neither one of us getting any younger. If climbing from one floor to another takes longer than it used to, well then, what really is the rush?

Literal and metaphoric passings

J and I have an ongoing tongue-in-cheek joke about the “Rainbow Bridge,” the otherworldly place where dearly departed pets presumably go to wait for their eventually mortal owners. Although Reggie is my first dog, J’s already weathered the passings of a dog and several cats, so he knows from experience it takes more than a warm and fuzzy poem about heavenly reunions to quiet the sting of pet loss. Reggie’s not ready to cross the Rainbow Bridge, but I have no illusions about his lifespan, either. Already, we’ve crossed the dietary Rubicon toward “Active Maturity” dog food, and once those glucosamine and chondroitin supplements aren’t enough for increasingly creaky joints, I’ll learn how to administer stronger medications: it seems the least I can do. But in the meantime while Reggie and I both have our wits and relative health about us, we’d both prefer to explore actual rather than rainbow bridges, our time together being precious exactly because it is (eventually) finite.

One recent reminder of Reggie’s eventual mortality involved an incontinence scare where several housebreaking accidents had me convinced that Reggie was suffering from diabetes, kidney failure, or worse. A vet visit and subsequent blood-work proved my imagination is more active than Reggie’s bladder. According to test results, Reggie’s kidneys, liver, and other necessary internals are normal and healthy, which means a handful of inside leg-lifts really were the result of an Old Dog being confused by the New Trick of J’s house with its feline distractions (and an Old Owner’s slow realization that a senior dog’s request to go “out” really means “now,” not later).

Echo Bridge

I know death is a passing we all make eventually, and lifespans suggest Reggie will cross that bridge before I do. But really, what’s the rush? During that vet visit where I described Reggie’s recent housebreaking accidents, the vet’s subsequent questions pointed to how youthful and (relatively) healthy Reggie still is. “Does he still remember where the front door is,” the vet asked, “or does he try to out ‘outside’ through the closet?” Yes, Reggie still has his wits about him; he still knows the sound of my laptop powering down means “Walk!” “Can he see well enough to recognize you across the room,” the vet continued, “and can he hear well enough to respond to his name?” Again, I answered yes, twice: the way I find my car in a crowded parking lot is to look for the bushy tail that starts wagging in the backseat as soon as Reggie spots me across multiple car-lengths, and although he’s in the habit of ignoring my calls when he wants to, Reggie’s sense of hearing is still acute enough to recognize the sound of a treat-bag being opened.

Echo Bridge

So Reggie, it seems, is as ready to cross the Rainbow Bridge as he is eager to climb a whole story’s steps to get to the top of Echo Bridge, and that’s just fine. Now that Leslee, our mutual friend, and I have done our advance scouting at Hemlock Gorge, I now know the precise parking lot I should head to the next time I want to walk Reggie on that side of the Charles River rather than this: no bridge-crossing or step-climbing necessary. Saving my best four-legged friend from the indignity of having to struggle up steps a boisterous puppy would take in leaps and bounds is a small price to pay for companionship. It seems the least I can do.

Click here for Leslee’s account of our dog-free outing at Hemlock Gorge, or click here for my complete photo-set of images. Enjoy!

A striking likeness

It’s not everyday when someone sneaks around behind your back to orchestrate the perfect present. J initially struggled to figure out what to get me for Christmas, and perhaps my giving him Patriots tickets for his birthday didn’t make matters any easier. But about a month ago, he claimed to have the Perfect Idea. “You’ll never guess” was all he’d say about the gift-in-the-making; all I knew was at several points he surreptitiously mailed envelopes I wasn’t allowed to see.

Smile, Keene

Those envelopes, it turned out, were addressed to artist Bren Bataclan, whose “Smile Boston” project I’d blogged when it took a road trip to Keene, NH after the flood of October, 2005. I didn’t claim the smiley-faced painting I found at the Keene State College student center back in 2005, figuring that someone else needed a smile more than I did. But the first time I visited J’s house, I smiled to see a Bren Bataclan painting in his living room: not one he found, but one he’d bought. On the secret checklist of “good traits” and “bad traits” every woman keeps when she first meets a man, I silently checked one in the “good” column: “Supports local artists.”

I knew Bren Bataclan painted whimsical, brightly colored characters; I didn’t know that he also accepts commissions to paint cartoon-like pet portraits. Now that I’ve seen Reggie’s cartoon alter-ego, I have to say the pairing is perfect. Reggie’s personality has always been goofy, and his orange poofiness is a perfect subject for painted whimsy. Bren perfectly captured the big, silly fluffiness of a dog he’s never met, thanks in large part to the various photographed portraits J took and secretly sent in those envelopes I wasn’t allowed to see.

In my opinion, the Perfect Present is one you never even thought to ask for, something you wouldn’t have bought yourself but you can’t imagine living without once you’ve received it. J’s commission of this portrait perfectly qualifies. “Loves me, loves my pet” is one of those good traits I’ve silently checked on my secret checklist of good and bad traits, and this year’s Christmas present merely highlighted that fact. It’s not everyday that someone transforms your beloved baby into a whimsical work of art.

Thanks to J for photographing Reggie posing alongside his portrait, which is still wrapped in plastic to prevent him from licking his likeness.

Dog paddling

On hot summer days, I get almost as much satisfaction watching Reggie wade at Goose Pond as I get illicitly swimming there myself.

This summer I haven’t been walking Reggie as much at Goose Pond as I normally do, and I myself haven’t been swimming there at all. In June, I spent too much time away from Keene–first in Provincetown, next in Spartanburg, and then in Atlanta–to spend much time cooling my heels, and in July I was too busy teaching summer school and being geographically bipolar. On Tuesday, Reggie and I went walking at Goose Pond for the first time in nearly a month, and it felt a bit like coming home to a place you’d almost, sadly, forgotten about.

Dog paddling

Every time I go to Goose Pond in the summertime, I find it incredibly calming to watch the dog go wading. Even if I don’t get my feet wet, it is soothing to imagine the kiss of water on hot skin underneath a thick, perpetually shedding fur coat. After wading, Reggie comes home to leave dark, doggy-shaped wet spots on the hardwood floor: the smudge-print of a happy, chilled out dog. Although doggy wet-spots don’t make for Good Housekeeping, it makes me feel good to imagine Reggie sleeping off a long hike, lots of deep-woods sniffing, and the blissful sensation of cool water. What’s good for the dog, I like to think, is good for my dog-loving soul.

Reggie wades

On Tuesday, I forgot to wear a swimsuit under my clothes, and Goose Pond is too popular with dog-walkers, hikers, and other swimmers for me to consider skinny-dipping. So taking a cue from Reggie, all I did on Tuesday was go wading, rolling the bottoms on my capri pants so I could walk up to my knees in cool, clear water that sparkled with reflections of the midday sun.

Clear bottom

On a week when Leslee was disappointed to find Walden Pond closed to swimmers because of elevated bacteria levels, Goose Pond was quiet and pristine, the only ripples emanating from my quiet shore being the ones stirred by my own toes.

Wading ripples

This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Wet.

Each of us has our own way of marking the official arrival of spring. For some, the sound of spring peepers is proof that winter is over; for others, the rising sap in maple trees is a definitive clue. For sports fans, the crack of the season’s first baseball bat marks time in a particularly momentous way, and for birders, the arrival of the spring’s first migrants tells the time truer than any calendar. For me, today’s first Goose Pond doggy dip means spring is definitely here: if the dog’s wet and my feet are muddy, then black flies surely aren’t far behind.

Red squirrel, Goose Pond, Keene, NH

While Reggie was cooling his heels along with other assorted nether parts, I spent part of today’s dog walk photo-stalking. I didn’t go to Goose Pond today looking for any particular sort of picture; I didn’t go to Goose Pond today looking to take any pictures, really. Instead, I wanted to see whether the trailing arbutus has bloomed (it has) and whether the black flies are hatched and biting (they’re not). Along the way, though, I had my camera at ready, right in my pocket, in case anything interesting or unusual happened along my path, and in due course I found exactly that.

Chickadee, Goose Pond, Keene, NH

Photographing lighting-fast red squirrels is difficult enough; photographing energetic birds is even trickier. At least squirrels can be occasionally tricked into thinking they’re invisible if they sit still; perching birds, on the other hand, rarely freeze for framing.

Although I heard a first-of-year hermit thrush and black-throated green warbler, I didn’t see much less photograph either of these newly arrived spring migrants. Chickadees are year-round residents here in New Hampshire, and on nearly any dog-walk they’re easy to see…but photographing them is another story entirely. Sometimes, though, a cheeky chickadee will zoom in close enough for a point-and-shoot snapshot, and sometimes that cheeky chickadee will even perch motionless long enough for an almost-pose. Click: gotcha! At times like this, when all I want is a decent shot of a perfectly common but hyperkinetic bird, I feel a bit like John James Audubon with his gun, my ornithological impulses spurred by a collector’s zeal.

Chickadees, red squirrels, and swimming dogs notwithstanding, the true prize from today’s photo-stalk was the river otter that darted out of the woods and across the path–pausing, conveniently, at the edge of the trail to allow this picture–after Reggie and I had turned toward the car. (Click on the image for a larger version.) In all my years of hiking, I’ve seen a wild otter only once before today: several winters ago while walking along the Ashuelot River, I saw an otter scurrying along the riverbank underneath an overhanging ridge of ice, its shrill, whistling call betraying its predatorial presence. On that day several winters ago, I was too stunned and surprised to grab my camera; on that day several winters ago, it took a minute or two to fully register what was happening. “That, there…that sound…that sinuous, fluid roil of furred muscle…that isn’t a muskrat, isn’t a beaver, isn’t a rat or rodent of any kind…that incredible, out-of-nowhere creature is an otter, a common but rarely seen predator I’ve never seen before. Now, where’d it go?”

Today’s otter was silent, scurrying from the woods like a creature with a definite destination, disappearing into the woods on the other side of the trail as quickly as it had appeared. Today, though, I had my camera in my pocket; today, though, I had the wherewithal to snap, snap, snap several pictures, hoping just one of them would record for my own memory’s sake–record for my own proof–the fact that yes, there are river otters in Goose Pond. This lovely little place where I and so many other Keene residents walk the dog is actually a bit wilder than we knew, harboring predators and prey alike, some of them cheeky enough to show their face (or a flash of fur or feather) to anyone bold enough to stalk or swim in their midst.

Dog vs. Groundhog

In the case of Dog vs. Groundhog, rest assured that size doesn’t matter. If you’ve ever wondered whether a plucky rodent can hold his own against an inquisitive and slightly clueless dog, wonder no more: even this young groundhog held his own against Reggie’s impertinent sniffings. (Click on any of today’s images for an enlarged version.)

Dog vs. Groundhog

Let’s just say I’m glad it wasn’t a skunk or porcupine that Reggie and I encountered during this afternoon’s walk at Goose Pond: had Reggie gotten cheeky with a skunk or porcupine, right now he’d be either stinky or pin-cushioned. Instead, today’s groundhog–a youngster who was inexplicably guarding a stretch of path where I’ve never before seen groundhogs nor any sign of a burrow–held his own against Reggie’s in-your-face investigation after an attempt to crouch and freeze like a furry rock didn’t dissuade canine curiosity.

Dog vs. Groundhog

They say that curiosity killed the cat…and dogged inquisitiveness nearly earned Reggie a nipped nose. Just as I did when Reggie encountered a snapping turtle, today I worked myself into a frenzy shouting “No,” “Leave it,” and “Come here” to a dog hell-bent on getting closer to a kind of critter he’s never investigated before. I now know from experience that groundhogs, when cornered, chatter their razor-sharp incisors in a move that’s almost as intimidating as human saber-rattling…and they aren’t afraid to make a lunge or two against a predator that insists on getting Too Close.

Dog vs. Groundhog

I shouldn’t be surprised that even a young groundhog can be a formidable opponent since various American writers have suggested as much. In Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, Michael Pollan describes his hapless attempts to fire-bomb a groundhog that had raided his Connecticut garden; closer to home, New Hampshire’s own Maxine Kumin wrote a famous poem about shooting a family of garden-raiding woodchucks that refused to be “gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.” Even Henry David Thoreau, who was no fan of blood-sports, went wild for woodchucks, claiming in Walden that the mere “glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across [his] path” was enough to make him want to “seize and devour him raw” to imbibe “that wildness which he represented.” Having come within spitting range of a pissed-off groundhog, let me reassure Thoreau that seizing and devouring one raw would be no easy task. Inspired, perhaps, by Alek Therein, a Canadian wood-chopper who visited Walden and “made his last supper on a woodchuck which his dog caught,” Thoreau apparently thought ground woodchuck as easy to obtain as ground chuck. In case Thoreau is listening, I can testify with certainty that live groundhogs are far feistier than raw hamburger.

Groundhog

At the end of their brief face-off, it was groundhog, not dog, that triumphed if for no other reason that groundhog didn’t have an owner to interfere. When it became clear that neither dog nor groundhog was making way for the other, I intervened, cornering Reggie with a wet towel, wrestling him back onto his leash, and then literally dragging him back to the car. (I officially have No Comment as to why I was carrying a wet towel at a place where swimming is prohibited.) If Groundhog Triumphant looks a bit ruffled, keep in mind that he’d been puffing and chattering in the seconds leading up to this shot. Even tooth-chatterers and saber-rattlers can get a bit flustered from their own histrionics.

    Apparently it’s the season for groundhogs to be out and about, appearing first on Gary‘s and then on Beth‘s blog. The blogosphere, it seems, is a wild place: be careful out there.

Reggie atop Beech Hill

On a mild and gloriously sunny April day, the view from the top of Beech Hill is enough to awe even a scatter-brained dog. I don’t know what caught Reggie’s attention yesterday as we took our requisite laundry-day walk up Beech Hill during the half hour or so between Wash and Dry, but whatever it was held his rapt regard for several minutes: eternity in terms of doggy attention spans.

Reggie with bellwort

Unfortunately, Reggie’s contemplative admiration of the April landscape does not extend to an appreciation for botanizing. Yesterday the sunny side of Beech Hill was strewn with early spring flowers, including the first bellwort of the season. Bemused to find Mom kneeling on the ground trying to photograph a plant, Reg ran toward and nearly over said plant, nearly trampling us both in his enthusiasm: “Whatcha looking at, Mom?” Fortunately, Reg didn’t paw or pee on either bellwort or Mom in the process…but the encounter did allow me to snap a lovely macro shot of bellwort backdropped by blurry dog.

Luckily, I got other, better photos of the April wildflowers atop Beech Hill, which I’m saving for a future post. In the meantime, here’s a shot of the scene that held Reggie rapt for an eternity in terms of doggy attention spans. (Click on the image for an enlarged view.)

Panorama overlooking Keene

    Click here to see my lasting posting on Area 603, a single shot of downtown Keene on a clear blue day.

Snowmen

The good news is we’re in the midst of a January thaw, with patches of earth and lawn sprouting up all over. The bad news is this pair of larger-than-life snowfolk, whom I’d photographed on Saturday, are today a couple of headless, misshapen lumps.

There’s more good news than bad, though. I snapped this picture in front of Reggie’s veterinarian, where we haven’t needed to return after Reg’s sudden recover from December’s Mystery Illness. Now the only time Reggie and I drive past the vet is when we’re headed to or from a leisurely stroll at Goose Pond…a wonderful thing to do in the middle of a January thaw.

While I head back out into a delightfully mild and partly cloudy day, click on over to Moleskinerie to wish Armand and other notebook fanatics a happy 2nd blog-iversary.

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