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!


Anonymous said...

What an awesome post!
I hope I havn't been replaced by the little girl.

Peteys quite the little hunter!

Sorcha x

Two French Bulldogs said...

Love the post and pictures. What a fun place to explore. Hope it was fun
Benny & Lily

Eric said...

Petey my bestie! Haaaa!!! I'm wagging you've joined me back in the naughty corner. We two could take up up permanent residence eh?. Though have to bark it pal, seems an itty bitty unwise to go dashing about it the dark after Dancer or Prancer. Cos seem's there's more than dear little deer out there in the dark dark night ready to get you. AS IF. A fearsome terrier like you? Nah.

But for a while, to humour your Mom you understand, you better water Miss Camillia Parker Bowles more often and and mebbe apply a nicotine patch daily)then catch that darn pesky squirrel. Oh and tell your Mom tha'ts some fine photies she's taken with her new flashy beast. Only the one's of you of course, who cares about the scenery?

Wiry love and kisses, Eric

PPEEes Did you manage to leave Dasher your Christmas list for 2011 (orange ball, orange ball, tennis ball)when you caught up with him?

Oskar said...

You are causing my mom person pain looking at your beautiful, warm sunny place. We are very cold and buried under snow.

Great post!

Nubbin wiggles,

Asta said...

We miss you hewe in snowy Newyawk, but it seems you'we having the time of youw life wif adventoowes galowe and a wondewful scwibe to descwibe it all to us
Keep having fun
smoochie kisses

Duke said...

What a fright you gave your mom running off like that, Petey!
Your pictures are just gorgeous, especially the flowers! I'm wondering if we'll ever see green again?!


Anonymous said...


Another brillant post! We loved all those wonderful pictures - the spanish moss, camellias, the beach .... it brought lots of sunshine to a windy, cold grey day here in Dublin!

That was some adventure Petey took the other night!! Glad there were no 'gators' involved!!

We read "The Art of Racing in the Rain" last year and really loved it.

take care
Clive and Murray