Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunday, 70° F, Sophie and Sofia

I'll start this post with an enormous caveat for my snow-and-ice trapped friends in the North -- you won't want to read this. It will feel like salt or lemon juice pouring into wound or a paper cut. Okay, now read at your own risk and do not hold it against me!

Yesterday was one of those gorgeous days just bursting with the promise of spring and the warmth of summer. Sunny, warm, with a lapis lazuli blue sky and a freshness that hints at life stirring again beneath the damp soil. I headed to the beach with Petey, my camera and a quickly shed heavy sweater.

Petey ran past a saltwater-damp Newfoundland on his way down the boardwalk to do a big prancing pony circle on the sand, surveying the beach goers for someone to play with. Unfortunately, he set his knobby head on a pair sitting in beach chairs, reading books and the newspaper. He dropped his ball politely in front of the woman who looked up from her Kindle, frowned and kicked the ball away. Problem. He was now engaged in a game, unbeknownst to the grumpy couple. He moved to the side of the newspaper reading man and dropped his sandy ball next to him. At least the man obliged by tossing it. At that point, a couple rode up on their bikes, a woman I've met from my knitting group down here who has two Cairn terriers of her own, both rescues. We lured Petey away from the grumpy couple and my new friends got a good healthy dose of terrier for the next twenty minutes or so.

Petey's next target? A bag on a little spit of sand between the ebbing tidal pool and the ocean. I ran after him, knowing his preference for leaving a pee-mail on anything vertical. Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about. Instead, I chatted with a young woman while her father flung tennis balls far out into the ocean for their year-old Labradoodle named Sophie. She would bunny hop out over the shallow breakers -- the ocean was quite calm -- and found most all of the balls. Since tennis balls are Petey's drug of choice, I was pleased that he ignored them. The same can't be said for Sophie, she took quite a liking to Petey and tried to engage him in play, much to her owner's chagrin. Eventually, she lost her focus on the tennis balls and several were abandoned at sea. By now, Petey had charmed a lady visiting from Atlanta who started tossing his ball into the shallow waves. Happy for the excuse to rid himself of the remnants of his Olive Fruit Nourishing Shampoo bath, Petey dashed back and forth from sea to shore. Often with Sophie dancing around him.

Frustrated by the distraction of the handsome blonde fellow from New York, Sophie's owner moved them (and his damp alligator loafers!) further down the beach.

And that's when we met Sofia and her new puppy Chewie (after Chewbacca!).

Chewie was a rescue, believed to be a mix of Cairn and Border terriers though he has a bit of an underbite so I think there may be some Chihuahua or Pug in the DNA soup. Chewie has yet to learn to chase and fetch a ball, but he sure liked chasing Petey. It was Chewie's first time off leash and his owners were a bit nervous, as they've only owned him for a month. He was a very jolly little fellow, giving chase to bigger dogs with his big bark, but always coming back to see what I was up to.

This photo is one of those "happy accidents." My favorite kind of portrait.

Sofia was a quick study -- Petey had her throwing the ball non-stop in no time.

Watching and learning the game.

He'd give it a sniff, but no real interest in the ball. Just in Petey.

This happy dog came galloping up but once he saw that Petey and Chewie were preoccupied, he loped along on his way.

Nirvana! The many tennis balls that Sophie's owner had lobbed into the ocean, that she'd lost sight of in the waves and abandoned, were now gently washing into shore. Petey then has what I've come to refer to as his "Sophie's Choice" moment—the agony of realizing he can only choose one ball! Ironic that this motherlode had come courtesy of a dog named Sophie.

My bold man even swam out to retrieve a couple of these fuzzy ingots.

So many tennis balls, so little time...(and alas! no pockets to stash the spares!)

After three and a half glorious hours of playing on the beach with anyone willing to toss a ball, we headed home for a late lunch and Petey stretched out on the porch for a good four-hour nap!

A perfect Sunday at the seaside.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Things that go bump (crash, click, splash) in the night

One of the things I really love about living down here on the Island is that we are surrounded by nature and very aware that we share this lovely planet with other creatures. In addition to the usual songbirds and squirrels, we share our neighborhood with armadillos, possums, raccoons, herons, egrets, migratory ducks, white-tail deer, alligators, otters and in the not so distant past - black bear, Carolina panthers and bobcat. There were even rumors of coyotes having swum across the Calibogue Sound last summer and of course, the immediate movement to "Save the Sea Pines Coyotes!", complete with requisite tee-shirt.

So we're mindful that that log in the middle of the road on a dark night might just stand up and walk over to the nearest lagoon, that our trash cans have to be secured with elaborate bungy cords lest you want to spend your morning cleaning up after raccoons who enjoyed a midnight snack, and to look twice before you walk into a sandtrap on a sunny afternoon, as you might disturb a sunbathing alligator.

I usually don't feed the birds as there is plenty for them to forage on their own, however, during a recent cold snap, I bought a bag of feed and enjoyed watching the wrens tuck into their seeds as I tucked into my English muffin in the morning. A chubby squirrel caused one of the chains holding the feeder to break loose, so I'd moved the feeder to a corner of the deck railing, much to the delight of said chubby squirrel.

But I got a good laugh one morning when I discovered the cheeky bugger had made his way onto the porch and toted the bag of birdseed out onto the deck, leaving a path of seeds in his wake.

Petey, hot on the trail of the purloined bird seed!

The thief really wasn't very subtle, was he?

Late breaking news! Spotted this morning on the deck...a return to the scene of the crime???

And this week, we've added a large cat to the wild kingdom. The community is installing new water pipes down our road which has resulted in cheery waves from the workers each morning as I take Petey out for his morning constitutional.

Hmm, I wonder if Petey could practice his tunnel agility moves in that blue pipe?

Well, if every man's (and woman's) home is his/her castle, mine now appears to have a moat in front of it. I'm surprised that these trenches aren't filled with water as we are very close to sea level here in the Low Country. Those metal plates cover the trenches at night, creating a sound not unlike thunder every time a car passes over them. Petey, no fan of thunderstorms, spent the better part of the first evening in my lap. Now he's grown quite used to them.

Here's an update on the lovely but stubborn Missus Parker-Bowles. My next door neighbor's camellia is now in radiant rosy fuscia full-bloom, just to mock me as I look out my kitchen window. We have the exact same amount of sunshine, wind protection, etc. so why is Missus Parker-Bowles so persnickety? (Could it be because I have a black thumb when it comes to nurturing greenery? I've been known to kill artificial plants...)

Last year she had only one sad bud and this year, she's quite ripe with them. I'll keep you informed of this harrowing news story as it progresses.

In the meantime, the winter pansies are doing quite nicely, thank you. I love their cheery little faces.Now, I don't know exactly how many nearly identical photos of Petey frollicking on the beach with a ball in his mouth that you can tolerate, however, he is really quite an irresistible subject matter.
And I feel quite cruel mentioning this, knowing how many of my friends in the Northeast are suffering through the snowiest winter on record, but the weather these past few days has been nothing short of splendid. It's what I call "high-definition" days, when it's so clear that you feel you can see every leaf, every blade of grass, every grain of sand.

Yesterday afternoon, after I returned from a glorious morning with the kids and ponies at Heroes on Horseback, I packed up my canvas bag with a book, camera, dog treats and water and headed down to the beach. It was sunny and warm, with a strong breeze that would blow the loose sand across the beach like low-flying spectres...ghosts of long-forgotten Spanish conquistadors, ill-fated pirates, or battle-weary Confederate soldiers?

While I read the excellent and highly recommended "The Art of Racing in the Rain" (a novel written from the point of view of a dog), Petey survey the scene, digging his ball in the sand, and allowing himself to be chased by Quincy the yellow lab, Honey the maltese mix, and a particularly yappy Schnauzer.

Occassionally, he'd retire to the shade behind my beach chair, utterly contented with his lot in the world. Can we say the same? And after a while, my reading would be disturbed by the soft plop of the sandy ball in my beach bag and an insistent "errr." Toss the ball and the cycle begins again.

We always meet lovely people down on the beach who will happily stop their beach stroll or bike ride for this insistent little terrier blocking their path and demanding that they throw the ball. I love watching them look around, trying to determine "who does this bossy mite belong to?" While Petey will say a polite "Howdoyoudo?" give a sniff and wag his tail to other dogs on the beach, he really loves people, children in particular.

Yesterday, we met one of the best. A little girl about the age of 5 named Ruby who was more than happy to meet Petey's requests again and again, each mid-air catch met with peals of delighted laughter—that sound only children can create that is sweeter than any music.

Ruby's very talented mom captured this photo of Petey and emailed it to me last night. Pure, windswept bliss in twenty pounds of salty, sandy fur.

Okay, I feel quite evil showing this next shot, but yes, it was warm enough to go barefoot. Wriggly toes badly in need of a pedicure in talcum-soft sunbaked sand.

I had something to drop off at my friend Karen's house on the way home from the beach and couldn't resist going out in her backyard to try to capture some of the beauty that is the coastal South Carolina Low Country in the low golden light of the late afternoon sun.

The tidal creek was cool teal blue against the soft oyster gray of the worn cypress wood deck.

Looking out across the marsh to a hammock of trees.

In the summertime, we'll often bring glasses of cold white wine out on the dock and spy deer peering through the trees across the creek in these quiet, golden hours.

This ancient oak tree overhanging the marsh, draped in his hoary mantle of Spanish Moss reminds of an old man, hunched over and gray, with his bony fingers reaching towards the water.

Karen's camellias also have a jump on Missus Parker-Bowles... I love how the blossoms look like layers of tissue paper against the glossy green leaves.

Another view of the sunlit tidal creek and marsh, framed by craggy oaks and Spanish moss.

The kumquats made it through the frost, though they're not as abundant as last winter.

Didn't quite capture the beauty of the late afternoon sun filtering through the cobwebby lace of the moss in the trees.
Now...enough of this serene beauty. On to last night's BIG ADVENTURE WITH PETEY. And yes, I think you'll agree that this merits all those capital letters. One of the many things I love about being down here on the Island is Petey's last walk of the evening. In New York, it means putting on coats and boots on both me and Petey and shivering in the "now you're wide awake" cold night. Here, I usually just open the front door and he'll scamper down the front steps, rarely stepping out of the pool of light from the porch and carriage lights. I can be in my pajamas, toasting warm. He relieves himself and quickly scampers back inside, a bit intimidated by the utter blackness of a moonless night.

But not last night. Oh no. My bold man spies a buck at the same time the deer sees him. The buck tears into the woods down the street with a beige blur of terrier quickly melting into the darkness in hot pursuit.

While the sky is pin-cushioned with diamond stars, it is darkest night, with no street lights or houselights as I race along the side of the road, praying that a car won't come by and catch my bold hunter in its headlights. I see a flash of beige fur a hundred feet down the road, then it disappears into the woods again. I can hear some rustling through the thick underbrush and in between my increasingly urgent calls of "Petey! COME!" an odd clicking sound. (If any of you are fans of the tv show LOST, think of the Smoke Monster.)

And then, most terrifying, silence. Not a broken twig, not a bark or snort. Nothing but the stillness of the night, my panicked calls for Petey and the squeak of a toy I grabbed to lure him away from his wilder instincts.

Twenty minutes of this feels like a year.

And then, through the darkness emerges a ghostly shape that reveals itself to be Petey. Trotting in an eager, "cock-of-the-walk" way. I grabbed his collar and realize he's wet, head to tail. His air of accomplishment quickly turns to humility as he is hoisted unceremoniously into the deep bathtub and warm water starts pouring in.

"What were you thinking?" I ask him again and again. No dog shampoo on hand, this sample of Kiehls Olive Fruit Oil Nourishing Shampoo will have to do. "Intense moisture for damaged hair." Sounds about right. A brisk Dutch rub with an old towel and a happy roll around on the carpet and we're finally off to bed.

So this morning, I snapped a leash on the boy and off we went to put some puzzle pieces together. For example, did Petey get wet following the deer into this run-off from the lagoon that runs behind our house, then under the road and continues down the road? That is sometimes home to alligators--who have been roused from their hibernation by our warmer temperatures and have been spotted like Canadian tourists, exposing their winter white bellies in the sun?

On reflection this morning, I think this swimming pool may be a more likely candidate for Petey's dunking, as he didn't have that fetid odor of brackish water on his wet fur last night.

If you look behind Petey in this photo, you'll see the tracks of the deer. Petey seemed downright apologetic as we went in search of his pal this morning.

If this was one of Santa's reindeer, down here for some post-holiday R &R, I fear Petey is now permanently on the "Naughty" list.

Hmmm, seems as if this Scottish terrier is not only a ratter but has some Scottish Deerhound in his DNA.One final thought...behind every successful dog blog is someone with opposable thumbs who can actually type his dictation for him!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Moonlight, Benevolence and Fallen Trees

No, Petey's not seasick, I'm still just trying to figure out the new camera. Apparently I can get things in focus indoors or the correct color but not both. Really should crack open that instruction booklet that came in both English and Spanish...

In the meantime, I'll mess about, trying to capture that luminous full moon through the Carolina pines and ancient oaks, so bright it was like an enormous spotlight, casting perfectly articulated shadows of tree branches on the pine straw below.

Headed off to Beaufort last week and that means one thing -- LULU'S! I know several of you have had the opportunity to meet my very dear friend Nannette Burgess Brown Sutton in person over the years and others have visited her store online and on her Facebook page. She always has something new to tickle your fancy and is oh-so conscious about keeping her prices affordable. If you're looking for a fun gift, be sure to check out Lulu Burgess!

Don't mean to rub salt into a wound for our friends up north, but it was a gorgeous day with Spring-like temperatures near 70 F. Beaufort is the perfect small town for a stroll. I've always loved this little building near Nan's house.

Check out the sign! We can think of several ladies (ahem, Lacie) who might benefit from the company of some benevolent ladies. Beaufort really is a throwback to a gentler, kinder era, with it's sleepy side streets lined with Spanish Moss draped oaks and beautiful camillas in bloom.

Here's a typical small Low Country house, with it's tin roof and wide front porch. I can almost predict the porch ceiling is painted a light sky blue to keep the bugs away. Perfect spot for cooling off on a summer afternoon with a lemon icebox cookie and a glass of ice cold tea (or an Arnold Palmer - half lemonade, half iced tea.)

Even these little plaques on the sidewalk are well-designed and thoughtful.

The blooms on this camilla bush (tree?) were past its prime but still so beautiful behind this old house on Bay Street. Still have my fingers crossed that the camilla bush by our front door will blossom soon as it has some fat buds. I talk to it daily and have named it Mrs. Parker-Bowles.

Looking out on the Beaufort River. This is a familiar scene for anyone who's seen the movies "The Big Chill" or "The Prince of Tides." Pat Conroy, author of many books about the South Carolina Low Country, including Prince of Tides and Beach Music, was a long-time resident of Beaufort and returns frequently for book signings. No one writes better descriptions of this beautiful part of the country than Pat Conroy.

Meanwhile, back at home...we acquired something new in our backyard over the weekend.

There were two dead trees right over our property line on the neighbor's side (yay! we didn't have to pay to have the trees removed!) and the company they'd hired got there too late to take the trees out entirely. So, we had their big truck and a good portion of the tree trunk to sniff around.

In honor of his pal Wilf, Petey promptly set about "christening the tyres." Wilf may have the rickety old farmhouse and gourmet meals and Mme Bay, but can he claim his very own truck right outside the door?

Petey also gave the property line marker a good inspection. And was delighted to find some recent raccoon poop to rub his face into, apparently trying to give himself a raccoonlike mask.

A leap over the log for some Agility practice! Sorry we haven't been able to share any photos of his class, but I'll tell you more about it later in this post.

I'm relieved that this tree won't be headed for our roof the next time there's a big storm. Sea Pines, the community where we live, has a wonderful rule that you can't take down a tree until it has been inspected by an expert and declared dead. Then you have to either replace the tree on your property or pay $50 per tree to have a new tree planted in the community. I'm happy to oblige, as it keeps our community well-forested, without those awful bald tracks of land where the developers come in and bulldoze everything, then plant spindly saplings afterwards that will take a decade or two to mature. If you buy a lot here, you first have to have your trees surveyed and any trees over a certain diameter cannot be cut down. Essentially, you design your home around the trees, not the other way around.

Petey was happy to retire to his patrol on the deck, followed by a nice long nap in a patch of sun-warmed wood.

Now, for his agility class! He started off last week with a half-hour private session to bring him up to speed with his other two classmates. I was pleased that he showed no fear - let's face it, that dog would walk across fiery embers if there was a cookie or tennis ball on the other side! He leaped over fences, sat on the table for the required count of 5, scrambled up and down the incline, dashed through the tunnel and followed a cookie through the tire. That said, he wasn't quite so keen once he realized he wasn't going to get a cookie for every trick and got a bit weary towards the end of the class -- an hour and a half had tired him out mentally and physically. He perked up when a tennis ball appeared, but still was a bit selective about following up commands like "come" and "sit." The other two dogs were both younger females - a 3-year old Jack Russell terrier named Emily who was such a quick learner and very attentive to her owner (ahem, could follow Emily's example.) She was like that kid in class who always knows the answer, has her homework done early and asks if there's anything to do for extra credit. The other dog was an 11-month old Black Lab mix, what we call a Carolina Dog down here as they are plentiful at any animal shelter. Her name is Isabelle and she's a big wriggly sweetpie, immediately enamored of Petey and his suave Manhattan dog-about-town ways, so much so that after every trick, she'd run over and wiggle in delight in front of him, asking "did you see what I did?! Did ya? Did ya?" She's adorable. Emily would sit primly on her owner's knee and sharply bark "Get back to work, you're not done yet!" and Isabelle would lumber off. It was pretty funny, Petey and his women, each battling for his attention. This week he mastered the chute, wagging his tail under the tarp as he found his reward cookie! Hopefully I'll get some photos in the next two weeks!