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Monday, September 29, 2014

Crepuscular Collie

After a very busy winter and spring of dog-sitting, things quieted down significantly this summer. The reason for this sudden downturn is simple: most of my clients had kids home from college for the summer. I did a couple of multi-day drop-in gigs for my favorite Pyrenees and some new cat clients, but I didn't mind having some time off. For one thing, it was very hot this summer and I do better off not having to exert myself very much in the heat! It has cooled down at last, though, and after four months without any overnight stays, I was very glad when the call came that Mr. Gorgeous, my collie friend, needed some minding while his family was out of town.

Smile! Cutie is happy but very hot after a short walk on a 90° afternoon.

Because of the heat, we spent most of our time inside. I devoted some of those hours to clearing out Cutie's thick coat: that's the brushed-out excess in the background!

This handsome kitty was one of a trio of cats who needed to be looked in on while both their owner and regular cat-sitter were away.

The last time I cared for Mr. Gorgeous was in the spring, when I alerted his owners that he was showing signs of degenerative myelopathy, an irreversible spinal cord condition that eventually results in total paralysis of the hind end. Unfortunately, my amateur diagnosis proved correct. Between the end of April, when I saw him last, and the middle of September, things had gone downhill fast: I received word that not only could he no longer go on walks, he could not climb stairs at all, and on some days he couldn't even make it halfway up the hill in his yard. He still had good days, his owners assured me, and he was in the midst of a run of them. Still, I was full of trepidation about what I might see. Would my beautiful collie buddy be woefully crippled by his foundering back legs? There is no getting around the fact that Mr. Gorgeous's days, at thirteen and a half and with paralysis creeping in, are numbered. I've already had two clients pass away in the last ten months; I'm not fully prepared to have another one go.

Still on his feet!

The Mr. Gorgeous that greeted me when I arrived at his house was, to my surprise, exactly the same old Mr. Gorgeous I've known for years. Perhaps a bit slower, much deafer, and more inclined to spend most of the day sound asleep, but all in line with a big dog his age. He followed me up and down the hill as I roved with my camera, he chose to climb up the full flight of stairs from the basement under his own power every day that I was there, and once he even chased a rabbit! Sure, his back end was a bit wobbly when you vigorously toweled him off after being out in the rain and he had a bit more of waddle when he walked because he wasn't always sure where is back feet were, but the dog who couldn't climb a stair or a hill was absent during our time together. I did notice that he seems to run more in his sleep than he used to now that he can't run when awake, but I could see for myself that his good days are still good enough that the end is not so imminent as I feared. My guess is that the cool, wet weather of approaching winter will be hard on him--he has arthritis that always flares up in the winter as it is--but on this visit, he was still very much the Mr. Gorgeous of times past.

"I smell a rabbit!"

Mr. Gorgeous settles in the grass nearby as I take photographs in the garden at the top of the hill.

There are koi now in one of the ponds!
Aside being reassured that things were not as terrible as I feared for my collie friend, sleeping away from home while dog-sitting managed to cheer me up in a completely different way. I had, in recent days, been feeling rather uninspired in regard to my photography, or at least in regard to posting photos of my Facebook page. It was too hot for me to spend much time outside this summer taking photos and most of the photos I'd shot as the weather started to cool down were of insects. I love photographing insects and then identifying them, but I know that not everyone has the same enthusiasm for viewing them. I try to mix things up on my page so that there are some photos of the weird things that fascinate me as well as crowd pleasing images of beautiful plants and charming animals, but I kept feeling like I had nothing to post. What I realized, when I got to Mr. Gorgeous' house and began my usual prowl around the property, was that what I needed was simply a change in scene. Of course I'd gotten tired of photographing the same plants in my yard all summer! I felt newly inspired and took hundreds of photos, the best of which will appear over on my Facebook page, but I've included some of them below.

I snapped this dragonfly hovering over the big pond.

Dogwood fruit.

Sunlit grasses.

Dahlia at sundown.

A series of rain storms moved through, drenching the mosses and clover.

Water droplets collect on the petals of this boldly colored dahlia.

Overall, the weather was regrettably wet, which meant not nearly as much photography as I would have liked and far more migraines that I could want, but it was still nice to spend some time with Mr. Gorgeous and see him doing so well. I don't know how much longer he'll be with us, but his sun has not yet set.




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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Harvesting Photos: The Garden

Tomato harvest.

While my backyard is a great place to photograph birds, it is a terrible place to grow vegetables. Once upon a time, about 25 years ago, there was enough sunlight for a garden, but the trees got bigger and bigger and the patches of sun got smaller and smaller. For a while, my family had a CSA farm share, which led to a lot of bok choy and kohlrabi stir fries. (Yuck!) But for more than a half dozen years now, my family has had a plot in one community garden or another down in the valley near my house that has great soil and abundant sunshine. We typically grow four varieties of tomatoes (Sungold cherry tomatoes are a favorite), two or three kinds of beans, multiple varieties of lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, zucchini, some type of cucumber, fennel, radishes, beets, green onions, and garlic, as well as occasional crops of acorn squash (a revelation) and other winter squashes, potatoes (they've never been a great success), bell peppers (ditto), and eggplant (a lot of work because they need to be well-protected from cold). We've had an unusually warm and sunny summer, so our tomato plants have been prolific: we've harvested 18 pounds of various tomatoes over the last two weeks! My other homegrown favorite, aside from the Sungold cherry tomatoes, are the green beans. I'm an expert bean picker (though bean plants will make your arms itch!) and a pretty darn good bean eater, too. Truth be told, though, my involvement in making things grow is minimal. When I head out to the community garden, it's always with my camera, where I stalk the plots looking for beautiful produce and interesting insects while others do the actual gardening. Here are some of my favorite photos:

The view from the community garden includes Mt. Rainier when the weather is fine.

Food

Cherry tomatoes.

Kale. (I know I have some beautiful photographs of water droplets collected in kale crinkles, but couldn't find them. )

Artichokes.

Red lettuce.

Broccoli.

Corn tassel.

Green tomato.

Corn silk.

The blooms of two different varieties of beans.

Cabbage.

Raspberries..

Flowers

Sunflower bud.

Allium (a member of the onion family) flower.

Gladiola blossom.

Sunflower.

Zinnia.

Dahlia.

Dahlia.

Critters

Skipper.

Bumblebee.

Sand wasp.

Drone fly.

Beewolf.

Caterpillar.

Short-Winged Leafhopper.

Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle.

Common Red Soldier beetles. They are sometimes called Hogweed Bonking Beetles in the UK because they are so often caught in the act of mating.

Western Spotted Cucumber Beetle.

Tarnished Plant Bug.

Baby rabbit.

Pacific Tree Frog.

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