Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Summer has finally decided to act like summer here along the river, serving up southwestern-Ohio's usual seasonal fare of 90˚F heat and 90% humidity. Hot, sticky, and decidedly unpleasant. Coincidentally, work on the cottage's rooms redo has slowed considerably—though heat and personal lethargy are only partly to blame. Unexpected events have played their part.

"Life has its ups and downs," my Aunt Grace liked  to say. And so it does.

DOWN: About three weeks ago, during or just after a meal at a local restaurant, my cell phone disappeared. Lost? Stolen? I'm not sure. What I do know is that nowadays cell phones are more than mere convenient and unobtrusively portable electronic devices for making and receiving calls. They've become a key part of our daily routines—a depended-upon tool for doing everything from checking and sending e-mail and text messages, to keeping up on news, weather, and daily schedules. Plus much, much more!

Losing your phone is like losing a highly informed and dependably helpful assistant. You immediately feel violated, isolated, and handicapped, not to mention alarmed by those security issues which must be implemented ASAP, and thoroughly hacked off at the time, frustration, and dollars any fix is bound to entail. There's also the nagging suspicion your current situation is due, in very large part, to stupidity, senility, or negligence…possibly all three.

UP: I've replaced my iPhone 5 with the iPhone 5s, and dressed it out with a new protective case—both of which are even better than the versions they replaced.

DOWN: Just over two weeks ago, Moon-the-Dog suffered some sort of problem during the night, likely either a stroke or heart incident. I've watched and worried for some time as my beloved companion's health and energy gradually failed—and understood that inevitably, our time together was drawing to its mortal close. She is 16 years old. Time catches all of us in the end.

But such head knowledge does nothing to ease the pain and burden of your breaking heart. And awaking to see her in bad shape—hurting, dazed, frightened—was almost more than I could bear.

Love always comes with responsibility. Always. In making decisions for those we love, we want to do the right thing. To be compassionate, courageous, honorable. To avoid acting from a stance of selfishness and cowardice. But how to know which is which? My father used to tell me that whenever I was faced with multiple choices, I should always look closely at the most difficult one of the lot. "The hardest choice is usually the right one, Sonny," he'd say—advice I've found to be true time and time again. Making the right choice is sometimes so very, very hard it tears us apart. But our pain does not negate that moral obligation, love's responsibility.

Myladylove and I talked. And later that morning, I made the arrangements. Set an appointment that afternoon at a veterinarian's office just down the road. Called a friend to come over and help me make my precious old dog's final ride as easy and comfortable as possible.

But as we went out the door to his van, I had a change of heart. I simply couldn't do it, couldn't go through with what, by all signs, was the responsible thing to do.

Was I being selfish? Cowardly? Maybe. I honestly don't know. But it just didn't feel right. Not the right time. So ten minutes from that final irreversible act, I called the vet and told them I was canceling my appointment. At least for that day. Then I called Myladylove and said I'd decided to give Moon the night.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "I am," because my sense of relief was far greater than any feelings of guilt. 

UP: We fed Moon by hand. She had real problems trying to get up. Walking was slow, shaky, obviously painful. She panted and gasped with every breath. But we've regularly coaxed, praised, and encouraged her out regularly to do her business. And though it's been slow, she's gradually improved. Almost miraculously so! She's now back to her old self, eating well, possibly walking and acting better than she has in a month. And I thank God I listened to that still, soft voice inside whispering to wait, to not give up, that time and season had not yet reached their end point.

At her age and given whatever occurred, I know this will only be a temporary reprieve. Time will eventually win. Today, tomorrow, next week, next month. But I'll take whatever extension we're granted…and I believe Moon will, too. Our reality is here and now. And words simply can't convey my heartfelt gratitude for such a blessing.

Friday, August 8, 2014


A couple of days ago I spotted a queen snake twined among the grapevines atop the rail of the narrow deck which overlooks the river. While some folks probably wouldn't view a snake on their porch with much joy, for me this was both a pleasure as well as a welcome bit of good news.

Queen snakes are small members of the water snake family, quite docile in nature, and similar in appearance to garter snakes, to which they're closely related. They feed almost exclusively on crayfish, and are found only along rocky or graveled-bottom streams boasting very clean water. So having queen snakes around means your river or creek is in good shape, waterwise. Alas, in some states, an ever-increasing lack of this necessary high-quality watershed habitat has now caused queen snakes to be added to their "threatened" or "endangered" species lists.

I feel honored to have these little snakes as fellow riverbank residents. Yet better still, soon after moving here, I realized the local queen snakes's winter hibernaculum was apparently within the jumble of limestone rocks upon which the cottage is built. I know this because come the first warm days of early spring, upwards of two dozen queen snakes of all sizes suddenly appear on this southwest-facing deck, basking in the sun of the burgeoning season. After a few weeks of this group sunning, they begin to disperse—though on any given morning throughout the summer I can usually spot two or three queens ensconced amid the now-leafed-out grapevine.

Like clockwork this spring, as the weather warmed back in April, they reappeared—a dozen queens, from small to large, reveling in the welcome sun. 

Then…disaster! A huge winter front moved in. Within a few hours, temperatures in the low-70s˚F plummeted to well below freezing. Plus rain, sleet, snow—followed by a hard, freeze-up which endured for several weeks. I worried about my resident queen snakes. Had they made it back to their shelter in time? Would the population be wiped out? And as the arctic weather continued to linger, the ground remaining hard as iron, would they be able to survive such a long and unseasonable turn-around?

I feared the worst. And I didn't see a queen snake again until a few weeks ago when I found a single, foot-long, pencil-thin individual atop the vine-shaded rail. I've spotted what I'm certain is the same small snake on two subsequent occasions. But the snake in the photo above is considerably larger—in fact, at something like two feet long, about as big as queen snakes get. 

So, two survivors. Not enough to keep a population viable, but enough to give me hope that maybe a few others also escaped the killing cold.   

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Ahh-h, summer. Those lazy, crazy, hazy days of sunshine and cicadas whirring amid yonder treetops, when sweet corn, half-runner beans, and genuine tomatoes grace the table…and come early morn, when only the foolhardy venture outside without first donning sufficient outerwear to ward off frostbite!

Yup. I've checked both calendar and almanac. It is indeed officially summer here in Ohio. Except it feels more like early spring or late winter. At least when I first get up. This morning the wall thermometer in the hallway read 60˚F! Brr-r-r-r-r! And that was the highest reading of any morning in several weeks. On more than one occasion the temperature has been as low as 51˚F! Cold enough to put frosting on your cornflakes!

Now I'm admittedly no lover of hot weather. Summer is usually my least favorite of the four seasons. But I do look forward to taking my mug of coffee and whatever I'm having for breakfast and enjoying my meal outside, on the deck, where I can bask in the rising sun, watch hummingbirds fuss over the bergamot, and listen to the nearby river murmur its way down the riffle. This is a wonderful time of day—the best time, I think, and certainly my favorite. A quiet, gentle period, filled with interesting sights and sounds and small dramas, yet sweet and relaxing—the perfect way to begin a new day.

Usually. But a summer morning loses much of its seasonal ambiance when you're bundled in multiple layers, still shivering, and trying to remember where you stored your gloves. Moreover, I've not yet heard a single ratchety cicada.   

How can you have a proper Buckeye summer without singing cicadas? And really, should parkas be de rigueur seasonal attire for summer in Ohio? I think not. And so, I make what, for me, is a heretofore unheard complaint: this summer is just too cold!