Saturday, December 17, 2011

Forgetting to Breathe

I knew this would happen.  It's been over a month since I wrote anything for this blog.  When I started it, I had no idea how I could keep it up.  People told me it would be no problem and it wasn't, particularly.  

Then I got really busy.  In my day job I teach at a university and the end of a semester is always rough.  It's especially hard when there are also holiday cards that need to be written and mailed and all that sort of thing.  You know the drill.  So I didn't get the blog done.  So what, right?

Well, not really.  Not writing the blog paralleled another problem.  I have been going around feeling as if I couldn't breathe.  Stress, I told myself.  Then I realized that not only had I not been writing the blog, I hadn't been writing anything else.  I was reading an email from my agent when it struck me: she was looking forward to reading something I hadn't written.  Nothing unusual there.  But this was not just something I hadn't written but something I wasn't actively writing. Writing is is like breathing for me in a way.  I need to do it to live.

So here's a blog entry and a reminder, to myself and to anyone like me: if you are a writer, don't forget to write. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans' Day and Armistice and Peace

This morning, at 11 AM on 11/11/11, I did something I have done at that time on 11/11 since I was six years old. I took two minutes to meditate on those who fought in war and on the lives lost in war. I thought especially of the veterans of the World Wars and more recent wars but I could not keep my thoughts from all of the conflicts throughout time.  These include nameless conflicts going well back into prehistory, the evidence of which exists only in the archeological record. Our kind has long had a capacity for violence.  I would like to hope that we have, not an equal capacity for peace, but a greater one. I would like to hope that we could develop this capacity.  Perhaps someday the Armistice will be permanent and we, humanity, will have peace.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Tiger Lily" and the e-book

I finally have another novel published,  "Tiger Lily".  It was a long process.  It's out in e-book only right now, available for both Kindle and Nook from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, respectively.  

Having my own books published in e-format  seems ironic.  I always swore I wasn't going to be one of those "electronic people" walking around glued to a device. This is peculiar because I didn't hesitate when it came to writing books on a computer instead of a typewriter (or longhand!).   But reading, well that was different.

 I was someone who loved the feel of a "real" book, the sound of a page turning, the amount of space it takes up - wait.  Not that last part.  I do still love print books and I will never stop reading them.  And buying them.  But that thing about the space, well, that's important.  My house, which is small to begin with, is crammed with books.  (I rarely get rid of them.)  E-books don't take up physical space.  Point to the e-book.

There is also the instant gratification feature.  Want to read that?  Download it! Blam!  There it is, calling you away from whatever you are supposed to be doing.  Books have always been able to take precedence over work in my life but the instant gratification thing, that's new.  So I joined the ranks of the e-reader people.  And I now write books that have been published only in e-format.  I have been dragged into the twenty-first century.

Oh, and "Tiger Lily".  There's a woman who can shape-shift into a tiger.  That's just the beginning of the weirdness.  Go check it out.  It's an e-book.  (Eventually I'll get over it.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Talking With Crows

I became interested in crows many years ago.  At that time there were a number of crows living in the woods on my property.  I have no idea what began our relationship but I began to notice that there was one crow who took to following me outside.  At least I assume it was the same one.  I began to talk politely to her.  (I have no idea why I thought this bird was a female but that was my definite impression.) And the crow began to talk back.

This crow began to come to a tree outside my back door, checking in there several times a day.  When I would go out, the crow would caw at me.  Well, caw doesn't cover it.  This crow made a number of different calls.  It sounded like conversation. Then other crows started appearing.  I talked to them all.  They talked back to me.  I would wait until the crows had said their piece and then I would say mine.  They would wait for me to finish and then answer me.

When I would go outside there was often one crow waiting.  This crow would then call others.  There is no way to prove it but I am convinced the local crows had a name for me.  Yes, a name: a call either specific to me or modified to indicate me, such as "the human who talks to us".  The crow near my back door would tell the others, "She's here again, the one who talks to us!"  And other crows would come.

Back then I would take very long walks in the woods.  The crows would accompany me.  To be more specific, they would accompany part of the way, all of us blathering on, happy to be talking with one another even if we had no idea what we were blathering about.  At a certain spot approaching one of the local ponds, "my" crows would bank and turn and peel off and head for home.   On a number of occasions I saw other crows in the woods just ahead but these other crows never followed or talked to me.  I guess I didn't belong to their flock.

I have since learned that crows are extremely intelligent birds.  It is possible they have the rudiments of actual language and not "just" a sophisticated call system.  It is possible they have a culture as anthropologists define it, in terms of learned and shared behaviors.

Then I stopped taking long walks in the woods.  I have a spinal condition which worsened dramatically.  I spent far too much time with doctors and far too little in the woods.   I was no longer able to take long walks.  Recently, as part of my self-prescribed therapy, I have begun taking shorter walks in my own wood patch.  No crows follow me or talk to me.  I did hail one passing crow, who circled around to come back for a look at me but that was all.  No conversation.

I suspect my old friends are gone, which makes me sad.  But I also wonder.  Do crows pass on stories to their young?  Is it possible some local crow has heard of the human who talks to crows?  Perhaps that crow will find me.  I miss my corvid conversations.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


My book of poetry, "February's Country", is now out in epub format, available from Barnes and Noble.  Even though I remember writing these poems, my big kitty Cal Meepers says they are actually all his.  I hope to have some of my novels published in epub as well as kindle format, including a brand new one (yes!)  before *too* long.  Stay tuned.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Visit to Ground Zero Ten Years Ago

Two months after the attack on the Trade Towers, I was in Manhattan.  My mother was still alive back then, living in her beloved city but considering moving to assisted living.  Some of the family gathered to see her.  

Of course there was much discussion of the attack.  My mother said, "They tried to kill us all but look, we're still here."  Some of us thought the attack would draw the country together.  Others thought it was divisive, that we would all be suspicious of those who didn't look like us, dress like us. A few were insistent that the country would divide over race and religion and fall apart.   Eventually, most of us grabbed cabs and went down to Ground Zero.

Ground Zero.  It was still burning.  The smell was incredible; my eyes burned for hours afterwards.  Much of it was fenced off but you could still climb some of the rubble for an overview of ruins and smoke.   I walked away from my family and began to climb.

There was an African-American woman already up there. She leaned over and extended a hand.  I grasped her hand and she pulled me up.  We looked at each other.  We said nothing, just nodded.  A few minutes later, an Asian-looking man started to climb up.  The other woman and I grabbed his hands, hers dark, mine pale, his golden, and pulled him up.  Again, there were no words.  We all looked at one another and then looked out over the pile.  The man wiped away a tear.  Then we heard something behind us.  A brown-skinned man was trying to climb.  The other two helped him up and we all stood there, shoulder to shoulder.

I said there were no words but that isn't really true.  No words were spoken but there were words.  After helping up the last man, the woman's jacket fell open, revealing her sweatshirt.  There were words on her sweatshirt.  The words were: "United We Stand".

In the gathering November dusk four Americans stood on a mound of rubble, looking across smoke and fire toward the unseeable future.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Queen of the Ants

Yesterday a new swarm of carpenter ants considered taking over the old nest in the closet or starting a new one. It could be there were a few survivors from the recent Great Carpenter Ant Destruction. So I got the spray out and sprayed the nest entrance.  The spray works by getting tracked into the nest and killing the ants later.  I sprayed the foundation of the house right outside.  And I vacuumed.  And vacuumed some more.  

All of this is in Cal's "cave", the little closet. Cal is my big, shy Maine Coon type kitty who needs his special retreat. Now his retreat is off-limits again, which is the cause for much sad meeping.

But back to the ants.  The poison works only on certain kinds of ants and some other insects. It does not work on mammals, birds, or even spiders. Humans are not supposed to be able to detect it, but I have a funny taste in my mouth and my throat is sore.  Ants keep finding me, running up to me, running up me, madly waving their antennae. They are trying to communicate; I know it.  Some of them bring me gifts of, well, I'm not sure I want to know what, held in their little ant jaws. Am I the new carpenter ant queen? <cue creepy music>

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I've done it again: a new book

Yes, I have a new book out.  It's called "February's Country" and it's poetry, not fiction.  It's available only as a kindle book right now.  It's not a large book but I'm pleased with it.  Years ago I had poetry published here and there in little magazines and journals.  I gave up sending poetry out about the time I started having novels published.  I never stopped writing poetry, you understand; I just didn't write it as much and I stopped sending it out.  I wondered if anybody even read poetry any more.  So to have the opportunity to publish a whole (albeit small) book of my poetry was astonishing.  I jumped at it.  I don't know if it's good, but it's there.  Go have a look:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Squirrel Who Hates Me

I am under attack.

A couple of days ago I heard something odd.  It sounded as though it was raining small objects outside, and only against one part of the house, the back part that's under a big pine tree.  I went to the glass door and looked out.  Some small pebbles fell into the bird bath.  I stepped outside. 

A pine cone whizzed by my right ear.  I ducked.  A small pebble skimmed my cheek, followed by another pine cone.  And then came the yelling, the swearing.  I don't know what was being said, exactly, since it was being said in Squirrelese, but the tone was unmistakeable.   I was being shrieked at by the Squirrel Who Hates Me.

There is a history here, of course.  This squirrel used to live in my attic, where she raised a succession of litters.  All of them played loud pine cone hockey at night.  I could only hope they did not also play a silent game of chew-the-wires.  This went on all spring.  With a pair of binoculars I could see the outside entrance to the attic through my roof.  We hired a contractor who promised, among other things, to fix the roof.

He would have fixed the squirrel access immediately, but I had a concern.  I did not want any squirrels left inside.  I read up on squirrel nesting habits and realized that there might be babies who were almost grown.  I wanted all the squirrels out and the hole closed, with no squirrels left inside.

Then one day I saw them: mom squirrel and two juveniles on a tree.   Mom was teaching them squirrel things, Climbing 101, perhaps.  I pointed them out to the contractor.  Now was the time, he agreed, and he repaired the roof. 

Well.  The squirrel was furious.  She moved her little family somewhere else but she did not stay away from the house.  She had a grudge.  She began swearing and complaining.  Loudly.  She knew who was responsible for her eviction.  She follows me around, screaming at me.  In the mornings she will sit on a branch outside the bedroom window and scream at me.  

Her babies are fine; I've seen them.  They are growing into fine young squirrels, but I am not forgiven.  This squirrel has become the Mouth of the neighborhood. She yells at everyone: at my catbird friend, at the crows (who seem amazed and comment amongst themselves), at the chipmunk, who runs, at everyone and everything.  Mostly, though, she yells at me.

I have tried apologizing.  I have tried explaining.  The contractor suggested killing her and her babies but I wouldn't do that.  None of this matters.  This squirrel hates me.  And she throws things.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Connecticut Mountain Lion in the Biologists' Court

The mountain lion or cougar or puma:  in the not so distant past they prowled the wooded hills and valleys of New England.  In the 1930s the last Eastern cougars were reported killed and in the 1970s the Eastern cougar was declared extinct.  In recent years there were reports of cougars by people who saw bobcats or large house cats .  A few probably saw an occasional escaped pet cougar.  Some may have seen wild cougars but couldn't prove it, of course.  Sightings were usually dismissed by wildlife biologists.  

Then there was the beautiful mountain lion killed recently by a car in Milford, CT.  It was not a wistful figment of someone's imagination; there was the dead body in the road.  A pet, people said, an escaped illegal pet.  Or maybe it was released by an owner who could no longer care for it.  Since humans are what they are, these things happen.  But this was no pet.

Wildlife biologists had been tracking this particular mountain lion all the way from the Black Hills of South Dakota.  How did they know it was the same animal?  They were able to collect hair and scat samples and the occasional photograph taken by people crossing paths with the cougar.  This was no pet, released or escaped.  This was the real, wild deal.  What was it doing in Connecticut?

Mountain lions will travel a very long distance to establish their territories.  They need large territories, too, to maintain a sufficient prey base.  Male cougars, especially, are known to travel considerable distances to find a new home.  In South Dakota there is a fair population of cougars so job opportunities, so to speak, would be limited for a young animal.  Opportunities to find a suitable mate would also be similarly limited.  It's easy to understand why a young guy would hit the road.

What drew this animal to travel so very far?  No one knows.  Surely there was good environment somewhere along the way; the woods of Wisconsin, perhaps.  So why Connecticut? No doubt the biologists will come up with a theory.  What I have is not so much a theory as a feeling.  Nature was trying to re-establish something we humans thought was lost forever.  Nature can do that.  We are surprised to find snow leopards in Afghanistan, mountain lions in Connecticut.  We thought we had destroyed them.  Not quite yet.  We should give nature a chance.    I suspect the biologists will concur.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Typo Demon

"Daughter of the Desert" is now out in Kindle format on Amazon. I am bedeviled by the same concern I have for "The Sword of the Land" and "The Blood of the Land" in their kindle formats, namely, has the Typo Demon run amuck?  

The Typo Demon is well-known, of course.  The Typo Demon attacks anyone's work, from the term papers of students to the software of NASA engineers.  (If you don't believe me, just google "typos".)  When print books become e-books there is even more opportunity for mayhem.  Now the Typo Demon has an added title: Format Demon.  

I'm sure anyone with an e-reader has stumbled across the Format Demon.  Why is there a line break here in the text that makes no sense?  Why is there an extra space there for no reason?  Or even worse, why are those extraneous, html-like characters inserted somewhere else?  You know the answer, of course.  It's the Format Demon.  The Typo Demon, at your disservice.   

I hope my e-books are relatively demon-free, even though I know there is no escaping the Typo Demon entirely.  It seems that no matter how often you try to proofread something, mistakes always escape into the wild.  Know what I maen?

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I suppose I should glow in the dark.  Either that or transform into some super-human mutant like Spiderman.  I have had far too much radiation in my life. Yesterday I had a CT scan for what turns out to be, not the dreaded diverticulitis but maybe just a a virus.  I had to drink lots of revolting contrast material for this scan and then get it intravenously as well. There are very, very interesting side-effects from this.  I'm still waiting for the super-human powers, though.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Catbird and the Cat

I have a stone bird bath on the metal garden table right outside my sliding glass door.  The bird bath is of concrete formed to look like an enormous shell.  I keep it filled and the water fresh.  The big shell is surrounded by by potted plants.  Above it hang three flowering fuchsias, which the hummingbirds love.  Several birds love the bird bath but the most dedicated user is a catbird.   When the catbird wants to use the bath, he will scold any bird that happens to be there ahead of him.

Nothing in the garden - or the house - or the world - would run right if it weren't for the catbird.  How do I know?  The catbird told me so.  It started on the day part of our roof fell in (yes, really, but that's another story).  The catbird showed up to make sure the contractor did the repair right.  The catbird would sit on the guy's foot and comment.  The catbird follows me around the garden and gives me advice.

Back to the bird bath and on to the cat.  The cat in question is my big Cal Meepers, a non-pedigreed Maine Coon type, and the sweetest cat in the world.  Cal does not go outside but he does sit on his side of the screen door on occasion to watch the garden life.  It wasn't long before the catbird and Cal discovered each other.  The catbird takes a bath and talks to Cal.  Cal sits fascinated.  He is alert but not in hunting mode.

"Trill squeak squeak!" says the catbird.

"Mrr! Meep!" says Cal.

Translation isn't really required.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I have no idea what I'm doing

I never wanted to blog, but people keep telling me I should.  The whole thing makes me nervous.  Nonetheless, here goes.  This first post is really just a test, to see if it really works.