Category Archives: animals
When I’m not buying discounted Valentine foodstuffs, reeling from presidential debates, or marveling at the driving etiquette of certain states, I endeavor to cheer and motivate Dear Reader and, in so doing, activate my own laggardly winter self. In tymes of crippling global bizarreness – political, fiscal, climate, you name it – we could all use a little pep talk.
Maybe your Valentine’s Day wasn’t quite dreamy. No matter, this Hallmark folly is more obligation than holiday, much as I love my annual “balentine” from my mommy. St. Pat’s Day does nothing for many — a drinking day vaguely involving snakes and saints, and if you’re not religious, it seems rather a long, festivity-less haul until Memorial Day. It is.
It’s an odd time of year in an odd year in odd tymes. Who could sleep with all the award ceremonies and farcical debates? A church friend said this has been the winter of our discontent … we had “nothing to play in outside” … had to go to Jersey for snow. When the sun came out (twice?) the temperature plummeted. We felt thwarted. Restless. The global news helped none, and personal problems abounded. Mankind seems to be going through…something. I hope it gets us somewhere good.
When things aren’t going ducky in one life area (say, job), it’s easy to extrapolate the badness onto every other area (money, health, marriage), then just smear it all over the past and the future. It’s a combination of rewriting history (with a dark ink) and catastrophizing about the future. Then everything seems quite terrible indeed. And in your mind, it is. That’s when the compensatory measures kick in – overeating, overdrinking, oversleeping, overreading. I’m not saying your worries aren’t valid. They probably are. I’m saying that in a dreary time of year, one distressing thing can make you don the opposite of rose-coloured glasses. You pick the color.
Overwhelmed? Hiding? Not thrilled with where the choices you’ve made have gotten you? Or maybe you made very few choices. You just went with the flow and now you’re gasping for air on a debris-littered bank since the water level suddenly dropped. It’s not too late, you know, to take your life in hand. I won’t claim it’s never too late to do anything, because that’s a lie. Time marches on. Trains leave the station. Windows close. Boom. You have to get clever with workarounds.
Patience is not my greatest virtue. My Chinese Zodiac year is that of the Tiger; tigers question authority, detest incompetence, and are impatient. With age, at least, we improve at handling disappointment and delaying gratification. Which helps, because when you don’t get cranky you retain the clarity to plot an alternate route.
As we encounter pot holes and frost heaves and flat-out roadblocks, let us allow the recent Black History Month to inspire in us a serious pondering of Plan B (“another approach”). Maybe it’s time to try a new route. Switch jobs. Move. Quit something you’re failing at, expand something you’re good at. Good at everything you do? Test yourself; try something new. But if it’s not mostly fun, forget it. Life is hard. Plenty of miserable tasks and situations will be thrust upon you. Don’t add to the pile.
Hell, this crazy weather could force us inside for weeks. Lie around, in the bath or under an ocean of blankets, and let your mind float away. What don’t you do that you’d like to? Or, if you can’t do it, what can you do instead? What are you going to plant, lit. and fig.? Which annual that will last a year; which perennial that you will enjoy — or endure — year after year? Dahlias or skunk cabbage? Use your intuition and look for a Sign. I do.
Ride the rails, knit, bowl. Give or get a massage. Get a pet. Walk. Do something for someone. Take a class. Soon this weird winter will end and you’ll be running around like a crazed March Hare, full of P and V. But remember: vigilance! Turn off CNN (“There’s a rabid squirrel ripping through American neighborhoods … is it coming to YOU?”); it should be called the Alarmist News Network. And I always forget seasonal nuisances until their return. Black flies, cluster flies, black ice … pot holes. I hit one so wide my car couldn’t possibly straddle it. It was really more of a sinkhole, a lunar cheese hole. The car groaned. As did I. As will you. Ponder your spring … with vigilance! Good day.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or ann.aikens.7 on Facebook. Twitter handle: @uvgvt.
Perhaps you, dear Reader, like your humble Columnist, hates change. Tradition is one of the hottest numbers in Fiddler on the Roof for a reason. This column is for those whose holiday traditions have changed to the point where, as he says in It’s A Wonderful Life, everything’s all “screwy.”
Usually by now I’m shopping Harriet Carter, cranking up the treacle spigot on Hallmark TV, shaving years off my age at pharmacy checkouts (nothing says holiday hospitality like the fine wines of Rite-Aid), fending off rabid skunks and inventing statistics in time for the family argument at Thanksgiving, just having a gas. But the year’s events, including my parents’ leaving the Upper Valley, have altered tradition considerably.
My own woes are small. My mother, God love her, has baked me 52 birthday cakes. She couldn’t mail #53. Sniff sniff! I never went to Silver Lake’s state park, and I missed the Barnard Fire Dept. tag sale, Bethany Church TNT Auction, Tunbridge World’s Fair, knitting fireside with my Bostonian golf pahtnah, and other key events that mean, well, life in Vermont — either because the people I did those things with weren’t around or I thought them depressing to do alone. Relocating to a condo, I haven’t been to the dump in a year. Vermonters understand the social importance of the dump on Saturdays. I’ve never even seen a garbage truck here. We dump it. We give and get at the FREE table. We love it. I got my recipe for gravy (nod to the Valley News) at the dump. I miss it. I miss all those people and events.
Sadness sometimes means feeling sorry oneself – which our forebears pooh-pooh’d as self-indulgence but I believe humans are allowed to do – or sometimes sadness means grieving losses from change. The world ever changing, for the messier, my people are suffering. They’re losing their hair, teeth, bodies, savings, their minds. They are concerned about their parents — if they’re even alive — and their kids. And about Europe. Africa. The Americas The whole planet for God’s sake. It’s a lot to worry about. Troubling dreams besiege us. We are sad. Rattled.
Friends move away. Kids grow up. People and pets die. I’ve found that just getting out there and doing holidays differently instead of lamenting a past now gone does create a useful diversion. In California I spent many an odd holiday, with weird foods and people, but the casseroles exploded and turkeys were dropped and people fought and laughed – business as usual.
In the history of Vermont’s 14 counties on PBS, my favorite part was when, decades ago, a visitor noticed there were no squirrels in Winooski. His host advised this was because Vermonters ate them. I’ve spotted beefy squirrels across the Land this fall – big, meaty, good-eatin’ rodents. That turkey deep-fryer sitting in the barn? Fire it up and drop ‘em in there. So they don’t have wings. Big deal. Invite others who have no family and go local this Thanksgiving, with the bounty of your own back yard.
Some traditions remain. I will lovingly wash the dust from my decorative light-up Pilgrim’s little plastic fanny by autumn’s hazy light. We’ll buy winter boots on sale from a log cabin-y shoe store chain where the shoes are, seemingly, cobbled by elves. We’ll haul out the holly and spark up A Vibraphone Christmas and do a secret mitzvah. Nothing helps like helping someone else – fact. But if you can’t work that up, and sometimes you just can’t, slog back a hearty glass of Poor Me and have it. If you go through that terrible feeling, you’ll be on to the next. Emotions are fleeting.
Melancholy? Don’t give up! Things can turn around in a heartbeat. Something wonderful can enter your life. Leave a space open in your heart. Nature abhors a vacuum, as do the Great Oz and all other magical forces. Lost someone? Take in someone new. You might change their life. You, dear Reader, have changed mine, and for that I am thankful. Good gobblin’, and good day.
Trotting out an old column’s Turkey Day Sniglets® for your holiday pleasure:
Bloatilla – The fleet of bloated bodies littering the living room post-meal.
Candensation – Glistening moisture layer that forms on canberry sauce.
Exconversation – Labored dinner conversation with your sister’s creepy new boyfriend.
Goo-Goo Goggles – What your son must be wearing to see any merit in his new girlfriend.
Coochie Cool – The appeal of your niece’s cute new squeeze.
Loonesta – The senseless postulate posed by a crazy relative so late in the meal it puts you to sleep.
Yankee Panky – What the Pilgrims did after the feast to increase their number.
[I’m Tweeting cool little mesmerizers like this from @annVTPBS if you want in.]
I’m not sure why the horn of plenty amuses the modern brain. Maybe its cutesy “The people of the Land had enough to eat!” artistic rendering looks generally corny. And that old-tymey wording, “horn of plenty.” Whatever the reason, a horn of plenty is a wondrous and comical thing.
For it we give thanks. As a people of many nations, we are thankful together for the bounty of this yearly American feast. And for old movies we will watch afterwards with lines like, “It’s just not right, I tell you!” sputtering from earnest and exasperated men in hats fighting for justice with the charming naïveté of tymes gone by. Who knows if tymes were ever really like that…let us think so and be content. We are thankful for every moment of contentment we can squeeze out of anxiety-provoking modern tymes. Those of us entering the Big Jewelry Years (due to growing knuckles, noses, ears) are grateful for a holiday function whereat we can wear same. And that we’re getting old enough for such parts to grow, which means we are in fact still alive.
There is much about gratitude in print these days. So I conducted an informal poll of the Land. The query, “What are you thankful for?” reaped interesting and heartfelt responses, largely from strangers, including:
Family; my cozy bed; the farmers who grow our food, especially the organics; books; my companion, The Schluffer (a cat); snow; the community in my church; that I’m able to walk; people blowing horns; how humans can overlook their differences for the sake of community; my family both at school and at home; the parents’ wallet; I have a hot husband; gluten; the opportunity to immigrate to the United States and my happy life here; that my son has a dog; girl scouts; my beautiful wife; “to eat”; my family; the pleasure of making the letters J and F in cursive, which may become obsolete; that spiritually bankrupt people have consumerism to fill the void; sarcasm; young faces eager to learn; my beautiful daughters and that I have a job; my health; my ear muffs; music. The front runners? Family and community.
My family and community includes the crazed nutters I call friends, including the illustrious and sharp-dressing Viscomte de Villainy, who have stuck by me through thick and very, verrry thin. I am thankful for them, and for how people’s faces change when they smile. And for my blood family, who are definitely nuts. And for a special chipmunk at Silver Lake this summer, an alert little feller named Scamp who roamed the grounds freely with a cheerful, magical insouciance in broad daylight– no shady rock walls for him! We are not thankful for the raptor that likely picked Scamp off, loveable easy target that he was.
With the holidays approaching, I am among those thankful for the opp to spend money. It’s always scrimping and saving in modern tymes, isn’t it? Wondering if the income will stop, what new disaster will cripple us monetarily. Gift giving becomes an even more guilty boggler when in magazines and TV and radio, it’s all, “Have less stuff. Get rid of your stuff. Stop having stuff. No stuff!” I for one like to wrap stuff. And give it. As a present. My solution? Gift people with experiences (tickets to a show, a subscription to something) and other stuff that can be used up. I’ll stop or Dear Reader might guess his gift. Can’t have that.
I add in closing sincere thanks that humans can’t think of everything all the time, try as we might. So some bad things get little air time. Like that tiff at work or the altercation at the dump. When we think on it, it’s galling (Treated unfairly? Flubbed a reply? Acted rudely?), but eventually, well, other thots encroach. Thank you, Lord. Because we do not need to dwell on dumb garbage.
We prefer pleasant thots. Thots about…cornucopias. Or: Maybe I won’t dress so shabby for the big meal this year. Make an effort. Do something new. A new charitable effort. Giant earrings. Angel food cake instead of pie. Something.
Wherever you are, blow your horn – with a charming naïveté, a magical insouciance…however you want to play it. Blow a few notes my way. I’ll be listening for you. Good birdin’ and good day.
Fairs provide demolition derbies; pig races; games of chance and “skill”; quality goods (studded brassieres, specialty doormats, Daniel Boone hats, gun-themed accessories); foods that combust internally upon the clicking of the seatbelt on high g-force rides; plus the Germs of Many Counties, steeling you for flu season. Bounty!
With last week’s cosmic Soopermoon and unexpected low humidity, Vermonters were feeling their oats—a horsey expression referring to “hot” feeds such as oats that provide extra equine energy. Carbo-loading for ponies.
We’ve been flat-out frolicking. As we bike, swim, and tool about our gorgeous state via horse, cycle, and golf cart, we inhale gnats and drink in the astounding natural beauty of the Land. No matter our troubles, her scenic landscape’s backdrop to our drama grows, flows, and enchants mightily. The Creatures of the Land also sparkle. Musicians strum, hummingbirds hum, and stories fill out ears with delight. Campfires! Charades! Laffs!
Deliriously happy, we pack on summer blubber by way of chips and macaroni salads (hot feeds), with dripping cones, toasted marshmallows and extra mayo all around. Chomping chewing gum with the ferocity of a jungle cat, I wear a bikini as a disturbing incentive to avoid the snack bar lakeside. Unsightly, but y’all don’t look that slender, either. As a friend’s father happily observed, “There are no Beautiful People at Silver Lake.” It’s Vermont. We just don’t care.
With little rain, the long and sunny days demand movement. Soopermovement. Early we rise, to tend gardens and hit balls, knowing that pacing oneself now is not an option. For soon the air will grow cold, leaves will float down the brooks, and the Tunbridge World’s Fair will be upon us. Is this year’s theme The Year of the Insect?? Giant horseflies take meaty chunks from us daily. I hope they are having a good time.
The tourists are. As they cram our roads with Corvette Clubs, motorcycle brigades, and kayak-lidded vehicles, they stuff our coffers with (hopefully) enough wampum to get us through what friend Sassy calls “the dark months.” While we lament oftentimes the physical and financial hardships of Vermont, visitors envy our visual bounty from the windows of inns and restaurants. Let us see, as they do, that the grass is in fact greener here. There’s a heck of a lot more of it.
With all our rivers, woods, and contradancing, we get physical without pricey gym memberships. Fishing and tennis are almost no-cost, and you can’t live here without knowing someone with a canoe or bike to borrow. We get our ya-ya’s out for next to nothing. People everywhere need to get their ya-ya’s out because life in Modern Tymes is vexing. Tech nuisances drive us batty, our free time devoured by the modern bane that is overcommunication. Which disPinterested, Twitterless, Linked Out Facebidiots like me don’t do much of, yet it’s still exhausting. Many here lack—or shun—the [devil’s!] tools needed to overcommunicate, a source of ruin. Good for them. It seems to me that the more we communicate, the more we worry. More people to worry about, I guess. More worrisome details shared. Just. More. Worrying.
I told my friend Kay I was glad in some ways I have no kids, so in our “sandwich generation” years I am open-faced, with only parents to be concerned about. Her reply:
“One thing better about parenting elders than parenting kids is that people are not competitive about their aging parents. Imagine if they were. ‘My mother got into Green Mountain Golden Years Assisted Living. It was her reach facility, but she got in! Her safeties were Maple Heritage and Mellow Manor Northeast Kingdom.’ ‘Well, my mother was sent to prison and it’s not costing me a dime. Free dental!” We could brag about who has lasted the longest without a walker. That would be like lettering in track. Blood test results as SAT scores…’My dad’s combined LDL and HDL were under 250!’ ‘Wow, you must be so proud. I’m going to make my dad take it again. Surely he can improve over last time.’ I feel a Roz Chast cartoon coming on… ”
A toast to Green Mountain splendour, hay-makers, canoe-loaners, tech-shunners, shenaniganers, parenters, summer fatties, and sooperfriends who supply laffs. Thank you all. Good day.
Winter and spring were certainly…something. Something weird. Now the corn is as high as a squirrel’s eye—if, by the time this goes to press, he’s standing on his hindquarters, which says something about how fast corn grows—and suddenly: summer! Which reminds me of a Betty Crocker product named Suddenly Salad®, which says something about marketing, the onset of delirium during lengthy marketing meetings, or the neurological effects of pollutants in cities where marketing smoothies dream this stuff up.
Googling “Where was Suddenly Salad invented,” which autofills so I’m not the first to ask, you find a list of consumer grievances about this product. The only person who seems to like it goes by the handle CrzyCatLady. Among my favorites: “This salad is way too salty! Suddenly DEHYDRATED…Thanks for nothing, Betty!” Poor Betty. Was she a real woman? Let’s look!
Of course not, sigh. The facts: A flour milling company that became General Mills invented the sadly fictitious Betty in 1921, when a contest generated so much mail—and baking questions—that the all-male advertising department had to consult the women of Gold Medal Flour. Enter the faked Betty, who “signed” letters and ended up on the radio.
Suddenly Salads’ comments section suggests a product named Armour Treet ® (what, it’s not technically a real treat so they can’t legally spell it right?) that you can mix in with Suddenly Salad® if you have completely lost your mind. It’s like SPAM®, apparently, because when you Google Armour Treet, it autofills with “…versus SPAM” (salt pork and…mystery? NO! Shoulder of pork and ham, according to Mental Floss in a tight online synopsis. God love the Internet.)
Anyway: summer. Bicycling to a swimming hole, I ride into a blizzard of (poplar?) fluff. The air is filled with it. I think it’s snow. Which says something about how short our summers are or how long our winters. Get out there and enjoy it people. Five picnics from now it’ll be over.
This time of year there is fluff in the columns, fluff between our ears. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the livin’ is easy, but it’s definitely less…motivated. To wit, the annual June Hazmat Follies , in which we miss the hazardous material drop-off by one minute (“Sorry, we’re closed.”) and return the bag of toxic waste to the barn for another six months. Every year.
But hey, it’s summer. Songbirds. Six-packs (both kinds). Suddenly Salad®. Certainly Something®. Fishin’. Fireflies. Farmers’ Markets. Tomato sandwiches. River plunges, frolicsome naked moonlit swims. Tenny, golf, DEET, and all the mayo you can slather. A friend’s reaction to my recent column maligning DEET: “I have several times decided that temporary relief from biting insects is worth a lifetime of brain damage.” And this from a father of two. Summer!
Other hazards: we expose ourselves more to wild animals. Something we don’t think about until it’s too late—the crazed rabid skunk is charging your neighbor who is beating it with a shovel to no effect all, she just keep charging. Then there’s the red fox we’ve seen trotting about; that thing covers a lot of ground. He will gladly relieve you of your small dog or cat. And don’t forget the fisher cats. Those crazy varmints will run onto your porch, grab your pet, and run off. Vigilance!
More happily, summertime convo—like this gem overheard lakeside:
“Malcolm, don’t be rolling around in the sand. We’re leaving!”
“It’s an emergency.”
“What kind of emergency? Put it into words.”
“I can’t explain it.”
“It’s not an emergency. We’re leaving.”
Which says a lot about the lure of sand, perceived crises, and family dynamics once school’s out. Good day, good naked swims, and good summer.
Summer Bumper Sticker
Retired Teacher—Every Child Left Behind
Foliage season (the tail that swings the bull of Vermont commerce), means time to reflect. With July’s hot rains there were reflecting pools (skeeter habitats) aplenty. Between that and August’s cool drought, who knows what colors our foliage will turn? It’s looking knockout.
Color me optimistic, but I feel a shift. Much terrible news notwithstanding, the People of the Land seem…hopeful! Energetic! We’re making music—beating drums, blowing horns, plucking strings with vigor—as squirrels scamper and crows caw. Hurricane-induced bridge repairs are complete. Fragrant apples fall with a thud while bears bang on the porch door. “Open up. I know you have product in there.”
The Tunbridge World’s Fair was better than ever. Kindly Ambassadors directed confused fairgoers and the Golf Cart Squad ferried the weary. The Year of the Swine theme provided natural hilarity; there’s just something funny about a pig, a nutty beast that keeps getting…larger. The revamped barns, nicely appointed with flora (kudos, Decorating Committee!), housed all manner of superb creatures basking in their creaturehood. Chickens with far-out hairdos, calves with soulful eyes, strutting peacocks, soft bunnies, a sow with 12 piglets (oof), and oxen with team names (Ben and Jerry) endured petting (and finger pokes) like pros. I asked my mother why she always walks outside of the cattle barn peering into windows, is she afraid of getting kicked inside? “I don’t want to be around if someone drops one,” she answered. A decades-old mystery solved.
Other quotes amused. Here now three: (1) My aunt has two sets of false teeth: her Smiling Teeth and her Eating Teeth. One year she lost the latter just as she was about to tuck into her fair fare (fried dough?). My father observed in the retelling, “The timing could not have been less fortunate.” (2) Upon leaving the heaving fairgrounds, I speculated how nearby houses cannot be a good place to live during the fair; you couldn’t stand the traffic so you’d sit at home for four days. Someone added after a moment, “The General Store is probably out of beer.” (3) During the Livestock Cavalcade, a senior woman resembling Katharine Hepburn whistled so loudly with her fingers that I said, “You’re good whistler!” She replied somewhat cryptically, “I stopped the California Zephyr with that.”
The Applause-O-Meter fairly exploded at the Costume Class, wherein 4H children dress up themselves and their farm animals, this year’s winner being Tunbridge Fall Formal—two girls in gowns and wrist corsages, their yoked oxen in tuxedos and top hats. The fans went wild. Except for the Harringtons of Pomfret, who had settled deeply into seating inside the Larkin Dancers’ tent and could not be reached for comment.
If you love contra dancing, Randolph’s New World Festival on Labor Day Sunday (brainchild of madman Kevin Dunwoody) is where you want to be, despite this year’s wafting BO due to unusually high temps. Although Duck for the Oyster baffled the boisterous Boyce family, who simply do not give contra dance instruction the attention it deserves, dance callers catered nicely to novices while allowing seasoned pros to peacock it with beskirted flourishes. The music enthralled, the marionettes entranced, and the hardworkin’ McMeekins held up…even if their hair didn’t in 100% humidity. The fans again went wild, as they did at the Tweed River and Bethel Forward festivals and the Festival of Fools. Things are looking UP.
Your monthly Useful Information is this: the 4 H’s in 4H Club are: head, heart, hands, and health. Your Good News is a quote from a dear friend my age: “I have a layer of cellulite over my entire body. But underneath that is a layer of muscle.”
Thank you, festival organizers, for hours of unbridled joy just when summer’s departure tries so hard to make us melancholy. We switch out swim trunks for Carhartts, kiss macaroni salad goodbye, and say Hello! to apple pie. Setting a slice aside for the bears. Like the Whos down in Whoville, we are happy. We are hopeful. We cannot be subdued. We are the Upper Valley of the Connecticut River. Good day.