August 2011

Bunny bookends

When I was a kid, I’d sometimes lie awake during overnight thunderstorms, wondering how the birds and wild animals weathered the wind and rain. As much as it was comforting to be safely tucked into a warm, dry bed, I’d worry a bit about the wild things outside before finally giving way to sleep.

St John's wort

With Hurricane Irene on the way, J and I have done everything we can to tuck ourselves in for the next 24 hours. We have food and bottled water, and we’ve located our flashlights, batteries, and several radios. J moved the patio furniture into the garage, where it will be safe from wind, and I moved anything valuable off the basement floor, in case of flooding. We’ve charged our laptops and cell phones (and I’ve charged my Kindle) in case we lose power, which is likely, so now all that’s left is to hunker down for the night while the rain falls and the winds intensify.

We frequently see at least one cottontail rabbit in our yard, and all this week, we’ve seen a pair of cottontails nibbling grass like a pair of bunny bookends. Today while J and I were hustling around with our last bit of hurricane prep, we didn’t see anything of our usual backyard rabbits. I hope they too have found a safe, sheltered spot where they can hunker down until Irene blows out of town.


Judging from past years, the fruit on our neighborhood Kousa dogwoods usually ripen in September, a fact seemingly lost on this early-fruiter.


One thing I’ve learned over the years is that everything happens in due time…except, of course, for the things that happen sooner, or the things that happen later. No sooner did we get home and settled from our West coast vacation than we got waylaid by a pair of veterinary emergencies, neither one of them involving Reggie. When you live with an old dog, sometimes it’s your other pets who send you rushing to the vet hospital.

Asiatic dayflower

On Friday, we took our yellow Labrador retriever, MAD, and our black-and-white Maine Coon cat, Shadow, for check-ups: MAD because he’d been favoring one of his hind legs, and Shadow because she’d been drinking and peeing more than usual. Shadow’s diagnosis with kidney disease came as no big surprise, nor did our vet’s recommendation to begin treating her with subcutaneous fluids here at home…but we were surprised by our vet’s discovery of an enormous lump on MAD’s spleen. And so on Saturday, MAD had an eight-pound, basketball-sized hematoma removed during an emergency surgical procedure, all our worries about his hind leg being postponed until we got the biopsy results.

Green pokeweed berries with pink stems

On Sunday night, we brought MAD home from the vet hospital while Shadow’s condition continued to worsen. First, she wasn’t eating; then, she wasn’t doing much other than lying around. This morning, J made a definitive pronouncement: Shadow needs emergency care, and she needs it NOW. So this morning, I cancelled several commitments in Keene so J and I could drive Shadow back to the Angell Animal Medical Center, where we admitted her for intensive care and diagnostic tests after initial blood-work showed her kidney levels to have skyrocketed since Friday.

Tree stump with mushroom

And so, we wait. We have no illusions about Shadow’s long-term prognosis: she’s old, and that’s a terminal condition. Having seen other cats face similar medical issues, J and I know how this story ends; it’s just a question of when and how comfortably that end will come. In the meantime, we spoke with our regular vet after admitting Shadow for emergency care, and the news on MAD is good: after duly slicing, probing, and analyzing every nasty corner of that basketball-sized lump, the veterinary pathologist could find no sign of cancer. In due time, we’ll worry about MAD’s lame leg, which apparently needs the same surgery he had on his other hind leg several years ago. In the meantime, it’s Shadow who has us hanging, wondering when and how her time will come.

Flag and walruses

This past weekend, Dave Bonta posted a collection of one-line poems chronicling what folks did on their summer vacations. Fittingly enough, this past week J and I were on vacation, first in Los Angeles and then in Seattle, and one thing I didn’t do while we were gone was blog, Tweet, or post to Facebook, thereby bucking the trend of staying wired and connected on vacation by keeping intentionally out of reach. Night-owls say there will be plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead, and stone walruses like the ones that line the Arctic Building in downtown Seattle say there will be plenty of time to blog your vacation after you’re home and back online.

Lounging cheetah with distant rhinos

Today’s Photo Friday theme is “Spot,” which gives me a good excuse to re-post this photo of a cheetah from the San Diego Wild Animal Park, snapped the afternoon J and I got married there last year. If you want to see some of the other wild “guests” at our Wild Animal Park wedding, you can click here. Enjoy!

Persian Ceiling

Long-time readers of “Hoarded Ordinaries” might remember the entry I posted after seeing the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in March, 2006. Crafted by 19th century glass artisans Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, these botanical specimens amazed me with their life-like detail. “Hearing the phrase ‘glass flowers,'” I wrote, “I imagined the objects on exhibit would look like glass first and flowers second: pretty, colorful, and entirely artificial looking, more art than science.” What I’d expected when I went to see the Blaschkas’ glass flowers, in other words, was something like the work of Dale Chihuly.


The countless flower-like forms in “Through the Looking Glass,” the exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts through August 8th, are exactly what the Blaschkas’ flowers aren’t. Commissioned by a botany professor in 1886, the Blaschkas’ glass flowers are realistic specimens that capture plant anatomy in painstaking detail. Dale Chihuly’s flowering forms, on the other hand, suggest the color and shape of flowers as seen in a dream. The Blaschkas captured the anatomical details of plants as they are, and Dale Chihuly captures the contours and colors of flowers as they could be. “These are flowers,” you might say in response to the Blaschkas’ handiwork; of Chihuly’s specimens, “these are flowers on drugs.” Any questions?

Piled platters

“It’s like standing inside a kaleidoscope,” one museum-goer observed. “It’s like something out of Willy Wonka,” another woman noted. Stepping into Dale Chihuly’s fertile, flowering world, you’re forced to resort to metaphor, the forms before you not quite matching anything you’ve seen before. “It kind of looks like a cactus,” one visitor said in reference to Chihuly’s “Lime Green Icicle Tower,” and I overheard other onlookers comparing various pieces to fruit, candy, and an entire menagerie of exotic, sinuous creatures.

Turning the corner to consider the room-length wilderness of “Mille Fiori,” for instance, you might as well leave language at the door, the forms before you suggesting a hybrid riot of animal, vegetable, and miracle.

Mille Fiori

“Oh, my!” was how one child described it, and she stole the words right out of my mouth. Is this a marsh filled with reedy tangles or an exploded candy-factory offering a wealth of candy canes and rainbow-hued jawbreakers?

Mille Fiori

Time and again, I heard parents quizzing their wide-eyed youngsters: “Which one is your favorite?” And time and again, I heard children resorting to fanciful descriptions: “The pink snaky one!” “The one that looks like licorice!” “The peppermint!” Adults, too, pointed, gesticulated, and struggled to categorize what they saw. A debate arose, for instance, around a huddle of pointy-ended black blobs: were they tubers, snails, seals, or shrews? Unlike the Blaschkas’ glass flowers, which are politely labeled with genus and species, the creations in Chiluly-Land defy categorization, blurring the boundary between plant and animal, actual and imaginary. This ain’t your Grandma’s flower garden, but a psychedelic romp through a land of light and color.

Persian Ceiling

As if the thousand flowers of “Mille Fiori” weren’t mind-boggling enough, the glowing expanse of Chihuly’s “Persian Ceiling” evokes an other-worldly, aquatic realm. Are these underwater flowers, terrestrial jellyfish, or translucent denizens of a yet-to-be-discovered planet?

Persian Ceiling

The Blaschkas themselves made glass invertebrates–“jellyfish, anemones, planarians (flat worms), polychaetes (tube-dwelling worms), sponges, radiolarians and assorted molluscs”–that reside in Dublin’s Natural History Museum, which I visited in February, 2006…but again, the Blaschkas’ crystal jellies are worlds apart from Chihuly’s aquatic creatures. The Blaschkas captured the weird colors and stunning shapes of creatures that actually exist: their work mesmerizes because it suggests things you might see if you traveled the world with open eyes. Chihuly’s work, on the other hand, offers a fantastic glimpse into a world that never was: the muscae volitantes of imagination’s eye.

Persian Ceiling

Click here for more photos of Dale Chihuly’s “Mille Fiori,” or click here for more images of his “Persian Ceiling.” Click here to see a complete photo-set from Chihuly’s exhibit at the MFA. Enjoy!