Sunday, March 29, 2009

Service Dogs for Politicians

Here's a picture of Cheryl from our vacation. We're sitting at a table in Orlando's in Taos and she is contemplating the plate of food that has just landed in front of her. It's blurry, but I like this picture--serene, contemplative, like the pieta admiring the christ-child (if the christ-child were an enchilada with green chili sauce).

Yesterday we set out on a new adventure. Some members of a new, secret branch of the CIA were here to discuss our new project. We will be raising service dogs that have a special ability--they detect when someone says or does something stupid, and they will either bite or threaten to bite that person (depending on the degree of stupidity). The dogs will be used mostly in Washington at first, attached 24 hours a day to all politicians (mandatory assignments), but eventually everyone may have one.

The agents brought one of the dogs with them (a beautiful yellow lab), and it was amazing to watch. I got bit every time I opened my mouth. (I noticed that Cheryl let me do most of the talking.)

We will get new puppies and keep them for a year or so, and hopefully I can memorize a few un-stupid sentences so that we can teach them the difference.

In case you are wondering where the CIA got the idea, Willow just got back from DC. We aren't on speaking terms just yet...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Red Fish, RIP

My poor red fish floated to the top one last time yesterday and died. I can't say that I was too sad to see him in that condition, considering that he has not been at all well for the past three weeks.

I buried him under a nice little round sundial marker next to the bamboo stand in a simple ceremony attended without much enthusiasm by Willow, who is beloved (in spite of her attitude) by all the fish because bits of food fall from her mouth when she takes a drink from the pond. If I guess right, she only attended because it smelled interesting. Typical.

When the bamboo roots reach his remains, this year or next, they will send up an especially flamboyant new culm, taller and fatter and greener than the others (at least that's what I predict) and what could be more appropriate?

To recap, the red fish had an inflated swim bladder that would not deflate, so for three weeks he bobbed to the top and swam upside down, which I have on video, only now the video is sad in context so I won't post it. The web experts say that swim bladders sometimes get better, and he did improve for a while--good for me because I didn't want to snuff him out without a chance.

Rest in peace, red fish, until the bamboo puts you to a different purpose.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Craving a Carving

I'm having trouble keeping up. Last week we attended the most significant social and political event of this century (of course, the national media missed it completely): the wedding between the princess of Cuba and her emperor-in-exile, may they live happily ever after.

This week we're eating great food and relaxing. Yesterday we visited the house and art studio of Nicolai Fechin, a famous Russian painter. Fechin planned, designed and worked on the house for 5 years, then broke up with his wife and moved out just when it was finished (something is very wrong with that). Throughout the house are carvings--on the doors and furniture and walls and windows--that Fechin did himself, and so I'm enthralled once again with the notion of carving something for our house.

I found a nice floral pattern on a buffet panel in the dining room of our B&B, and I'm sure that I can carve this. We'll put it as the side panel to the new book shelves I'm building in the breakfast room. Here's a segment of then design. I'll use the carving tools that Cheryl bought me years ago (and that have remained mostly unused).

Otherwise, as usual I enjoy the pace of being on vacation and spending time with Cheryl and our friends. We had an excellent hike yesterday, then more food--great quantities of food (which is a sin, if I remember correctly, even though we are eating the divine New Mexico chilies) and more food today --so much food that this evening we couldn't go to dinner.

But I miss Willow and my bed and my routine and my piano and my projects at home. I hope my red fish is still OK.

Cheryl is asleep as I'm writing this and I've got a nice fire going. Tomorrow we will do some hiking and then more food.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Orchid Tree, Part 2 (and Red Fish Update)

Our orchid tree is in bloom. Here's a nice close up. The tree, in its totality, is still skinny and not much to look at--if you squint just right it looks like a mass of flowers hanging in the air.

To follow up on an earlier post, this tree is also known as Mountain Ebony (Bauhinia purpurea) and is a less desired and less commonly seen specimen than its cousin, the Hong Kong orchid tree (Bauhinia x blakeana), which has already finished flowering this year.

This year, when the blooms fall off and the pods come in (like huge sugar peas) I will trim back the tree a little to shape it up. Maybe next year the leaves will look better. I'm consulting with my team of scientists at the CIA for a new strategy.

Also, I returned my sick fish to the pond this morning. He seemed better, or maybe he just looked lonely floating around in that garbage can. If he is contagious, you'd think he would have gotten worse by now, right? Oh well, sometimes there's not a good choice to make. I just went to check on him, and he wasn't floating. So far, so good.

Here's the tree, seen from the front yard. It wouldn't win any awards at a plant show, but I think it is a really nice, beautiful tree. I'm glad we have this variety.

Also, I went out again, just now, to try and take a picture of the red fish, and he must be hiding under the lilies. The koi can hear the security alarm beep from our house when we open the back door, and they usually come to the surface to see if I've got some food. They are all hiding today. No one wants to go into the can.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Red Fish, Blue Fish

One of our koi is sick. I've had him quarantined for almost a week in a big galvanized trash can so that he doesn't infect the other fish (per the recommendations of experts on the web).

Apparently he has a problem with his swim bladder, which is inflated, and this causes him to float on his side. Otherwise his eyes are bright and he seems healthy and he can swim upright for short periods. Here he is taking a dive with some indignation (koi are very camera shy). When he is floating (which is 99% of the time) it is a very sad sight.

I refer to him as a male, though I don't really know. I guess if he's going to die, I would feel less emotional about a male fish dying.

The swim bladder problem sometimes is due to temperate changes and. like a bad case of gas, it may go away and the little guy will get better. Sometimes the problem is parasites or bladder disease. Some people recommend medicated food, some recommend frozen peas and many people just recommend leaving him alone.

The problem is: he doesn't want to eat. Yesterday I tried to feed him some peas, but he just ignores them. Just for fun I flipped one of the peas into the air and it popped right into his mouth--like making a basket from the half court line. Cheryl, for some reason, just gave me a funny look when I told her, which was OK because the fish spit out the pea a few seconds later.

I know this is some fuss over a fish, but I've grown to like the little guy. I try to visit a few times a day, but he probably thinks I'm a giant bird and is wondering if life could possibly suck more. At least he gets some exercise. Does he miss being with the other fish? From what I can tell, the fish would just as soon eat each other as spit. When one of them gets sick, the others go to the bottom of the pond and stay there. More later.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Prickly Pear Plots

Today I noticed that the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ?) in our side yard is just starting to bloom. At this stage they have pretty yellow pistils extending from the end. I watched as this bee (can you see it on the top?) squirmed around in the folds for several minutes. He finally came out, drunk and laughing, and flew into my camera lens before stumbling on to molest another flower. It was pretty disgraceful, but what can you do?

The cactus is about 25 feet tall and maybe 20 feet wide, constantly threatening to consume the two orange trees in its neighborhood. The more I cut it back, the stronger it gets.

Coincidentally, the oranges from both trees are little bitter, and I believe it is a plot by the cactus to trick me into cutting down the trees so that it can complete its conquest of the entire side yard. Orange trees, I've discovered, are not too bright and are easily lead astray.

The trick is this: Prickly pears are very brittle--their arms fall off with little provocation. It's how they start new plants. So this freak is just bating me, just daring me to go out there and start hacking at it. We'll just see. Maybe I won't...

I swear the following is true: I just went outside to take another picture of the cactus, and one of the big arms had fallen off. The arm fell off while I was writing this blog. I swear.

Also, one of our fish is probably dying. It floats on its side for a while, then swims for a while. I feel really bad for it but am hopeful that it may soon recover.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Swamp Hibiscus

Here's Willow inspecting the finished stairway project and wondering how long it will take her to demolish the finish with her witch-like toe nails. She's been passive-aggressive throughout the project, wanting to supervise and wanting to destroy. She is literally drooling at the possibilities.

If only she would wear socks or some slippers...

I know what some of you are thinking. The swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) to the right looks like a plant that, if found growing in your yard, could prompt a DEA helicopter firestorm attack and an onslaught of men wearing matching jackets and caps and carrying machine guns and talking into radios and being very serious about it.

Cheryl and I saw first this plant in the everglades. It has a gorgeous scarlet flower, and I am very reluctant to use the word "gorgeous".

We've had this one for about 3 years now. It grows in a pot in the fish pond, dies back in the fall and comes back in January. Last year the dreaded Sri Lankan biobot weevils infested the plant, but this year I have a surprise for them. We'll get some blooms in April or May. Until then, I throw up whenever a helicopter passes overhead.