On Living in Bubbles

I’ve been accused of living in a bubble. It’s true: I live in a bubble. Several bubbles.

bubblesBubbles have a bad rap. If someone accuses you of living in a bubble, they generally mean you associate only with people who think like you and live lives that look a lot like yours.

True, some people do this. It’s the only way I can explain, say, the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. Their inability to grapple with, or even hear, uncomfortable information is a common symptom of living in the kind of bubble that includes only people who think like you. This makes it difficult to defend your ideas to people who don’t share them without going on the attack, whereupon many people will give up trying to communicate with you except on neutral subjects — whereupon you may accuse them of living in a bubble.

Not all bubbles are like that. Some bubbles are more like workshops, where a team works together on a common project without continual interruptions from outside. Or like master classes, where a certain degree of preparation is required so that participants can reach for the next level. Let’s acknowledge that living in a bubble can be a good thing, especially when we live in several bubbles at once — as many of us do.

At the moment I live in a Martha’s Vineyard bubble, a feminist bubble, a woman bubble, a white bubble, a blue-state Democrat bubble, a writer bubble, an editor bubble, a dog-owner bubble (which contains a sub-bubble for roommates of Alaskan malamutes), and a tenant bubble. For starters.

When I lived and worked in the D.C. women’s community, roughly from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, people sometimes asked me “But aren’t you limiting yourself?” It hadn’t occurred to me that I might be limiting myself because my knowledge of history, music, ideas, writing, art, and what women were up to across the country and around the world was expanding so rapidly. But of course the question had a subtext, and the subtext was “if you’re focusing on women, you’re leaving out the really important stuff, like, you know, men.”

When I moved from D.C. to Martha’s Vineyard in 1985, I expected some culture shock, and I got it: Almost no one read the same authors or listened to the same music that I did. No one said the word “lesbian” out loud. AIDS didn’t become a household word for several more years, and when it did people talked about it as if it could only be contracted through blood transfusions or dirty needles. At the same time, I’d grown up in small-town Massachusetts, so people looked and sounded pretty familiar. As in D.C., everybody seemed to know everybody else’s business and the grapevine was a major source of news.

But before long I started to see my women’s community experience through a Vineyard lens, as well as the Vineyard through a lens colored by years in a diverse, politically engaged community. Nearly everyone I knew in D.C. was born within 15 or 20 years of each other. We were in our mid-20s to early 40s. Many of us had fled families and/or churches that ranged from indifferent to hostile to violent. Most of us knew few of each other’s relatives.

Within a few years on the Vineyard, my acquaintance ranged from kids in single digits to people in their 80s and even 90s. Those who’d grown up here were, it seemed, related to half the island. Family, I realized, could be a curse, or at least a cross to bear, but it could also provide the network that got you through hard times and helped raise your kids. Churches played a similar role, as well as providing meeting space for 12-step programs and rehearsal space for concerts and theater productions. It also seemed that, at least for the Protestants, the feel of the congregation and the personality of the pastor were more decisive than doctrine in choosing a parish.

So I wound up with a deeper understanding of why some people saw religion as an enemy and others embraced it as essential to community life, and why some defended the so-called “traditional family” and others were actively engaged in transforming it in ways that some traditionalists abhorred. The complex inter-relationships of the Vineyard make for frustrating politics: people who’ve lived here a long time are often reluctant to speak out on remotely controversial issues, which means the lead often goes to single people (without multiple family connections) and relatively recent arrivals.

On the other hand, the D.C. women’s community lacked the ballast that can keep controversies from turning into bloodbaths. For all our incessant talk about “community,” we often didn’t step back long enough to consider what effect our words and deeds might have on the whole bubble, as opposed to our particular sub-bubbles.

Substitute “the country” for “community” in the preceding sentence and the result has plenty of truth to it. “The country” may be too damn big, diverse, and amorphous for any single one of us to grasp the whole of it: I have a hard enough time making generalizations about “Martha’s Vineyard” or “the D.C. women’s community.” But on the whole I believe that people who live in several bubbles and are willing to keep making translations between them are our best hope for holding the country, and the world, together.

NOTE: My feminist buddies will probably realize that the imagery in that last sentence owes a lot to Donna Kate Rushin’s “The Bridge Poem” (1981) and the book it gave a title to: This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, first published in 1981 and now in its fourth edition.

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A Tale of Two (More) Pens

Yesterday I went to see a man about a pen.

Turned out to be two pens: it could have been more, but I restrained myself.

thirteen fountain pens

My pen collection as of yesterday morning

If you know me, you know I’m a pen junkie. I have more fountain pens, and more bottles of ink, than any writer needs — even a writer who does most of her first-draft writing in longhand because her internal editor can’t read, and therefore can’t mess with, her barely legible handwriting.

However, being a cautious type, I don’t carry fountain pens around in my pocket, carry-all, or backpack. Not that any of my pens leak, but there’s always a chance . . . There’s also the possibility that a pen might run dry on the road, and no way am I going to tote a bottle of ink around with me.

ink bottles

Ink bottles pose for the camera. As you can tell, I’m a mail-order customer of Fahrney’s Pens in D.C.

Besides, which one(s) would I take with, and which would I leave at home?

So I pack a ballpoint or two. For a long time generic disposables were good enough, but then a Pelikan fountain pen I wanted — the one at far right in the photo above — came bundled with a matching ballpoint. I was hooked.

Then, earlier this year, I left it behind. Not for the first time, but this time I didn’t remember where and it hasn’t managed to find its way home. I went back to generic disposables, but it wasn’t the same. I browsed the Fahrney’s Pen catalogue, pen porn at its finest, but nothing caught my eye. (Visiting the Fahrney’s website just now, however, an “Inkvent Calendar” caught my eye immediately. OMG! An Advent calendar in which each day’s little door conceals a mini-bottle of high-class ink! The price tag, however, is $90. If you’re hankering to buy me a present for Christmas, New Year’s, Tam’s birthday [March], or my birthday [June], or just for the hell of it . . .)

Time passed. Earlier this fall, I think in a Facebook thread, I became aware of a Vineyard guy who makes pens. If you know the Vineyard, you can probably guess that Bill Giordano is in the restaurant business; he makes pens as a hobby, doesn’t sell through any Vineyard shop, maintains only a barebones presence on Etsy, but does sell at Edgartown’s Christmas craft fair in December. I made contact and learned (1) that he makes ballpoint, rollerball, and fountain pens, all hand-turned and all able to use commercial refills; and (2) that he’s willing to travel.

I didn’t want to wait till December. We played email tag for a while, and finally . . .

Yesterday I went to see a man about a pen, at the Black Dog Café in Vineyard Haven.

Maybe I should have been anxious. What if I didn’t recognize the guy? What if none of his wares said I’m the one?

No problem on either count. Pens are not large, so Bill could bring considerable inventory to the table (literally). I was wowed. He showed me how the mechanisms worked. I picked two, one rollerball and one ballpoint. My only regret is that I didn’t go for one of his wood pens, which make gorgeous use of the wood grain and are unlike anything else in my collection. So I might make the Edgartown Christmas craft fair after all . . .

two pens

My new pens on a blank sheet of paper

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Post-Veterans Day Musing

I don’t “celebrate” Veterans Day but I do indeed observe it. I notice. I take note.

Coming of political age during the Vietnam War, I was not favorably disposed to either the military or the U.S. government. In the decades since, my perspective has become more — what? complex? nuanced? Still, it’s more than mildly disconcerting that, thanks to the lawlessness of the Trump administration, the gobsmacking gutlessless of congressional Republicans, and the not-as-outlandish-as-it-should-be idea that Trump might refuse to leave office voluntarily, I’ve sometimes thought “If worse really does come to worst, the military is our only hope.”

Souvenir of my first big demonstration, the Vietnam Moratorium, October 15, 1969

While interned at the Washington Coliseum for sitting on the Capitol steps during the Mayday demonstrations of 1971, I struck up a conversation with a young National Guardsman. He said that if he wasn’t on duty, he’d be “in there with you.” He talked about why he’d joined the Guard: part of it was steady employment that came with educational opportunities that I took for granted because of the family I’d been born into.

In my D.C. days, when I was working at the national HQ of the American Red Cross, my friends and drinking buddies included several vets, including one “lifer” who had served his 20 years, retired in his early 40s, and was now working for USA Today. Having both a pension and a salary to live on struck me as pretty cool — but I couldn’t imagine myself following orders for 20 years in the military.

I started college as an Arabic major with the vague idea of going into the Foreign Service. The antiwar movement was a crash course in U.S. foreign policy.  As a teenage Arabist, I was already very familiar with how British and French imperialism had worked in the Middle East. It wasn’t hard to transfer that knowledge to the French and then the U.S. in Indochina. No way could I envision myself representing the U.S. government abroad, or at home either. It looked like a civilian version of the military: stifle your disagreements and do what you’re told.

Poll after poll tells us that the military is the most trusted institution in the U.S.

Aside: A fascinating survey conducted in October 2018 found that “the top five were the military, Amazon, Google, local police, and colleges and universities. The bottom five were the press, the executive branch, Facebook, political parties, and Congress” (emphasis mine).

Since my antiwar days I’ve often been awed and inspired by the stories of veterans and serving members of the military, but that doesn’t translate into trust for the military as an institution. My wariness stems partly from how support for the military has become a secular religion, and any doubts or questions treated as heresy.

There’s also my acute annoyance with the platitude “If you love your freedom, thank a vet.” Shortly after the 2016 election I wrote “Do We Love Our Freedom?” I noted: “When I consider my freedom, I want to thank Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and hundreds of suffragists whose names I’ll never know. I want to thank civil rights activists and labor organizers and the ACLU.” Then I asked how much we as a people loved our freedom when we’d “just voted in a guy who admires autocrats and whose idea of freedom seems to be the freedom to fleece, stiff, and exploit.”

All of which has come true and then some in the long months and years since January 20, 2017, but there’s something else: The list of people I have to thank for my freedom, which very much includes defending the Constitution and the rule of law on which our freedoms depend, has grown.

That list includes institutions and individuals I never thought to see there. Seriously. The CIA, which during my political coming of age was notorious for helping engineer the overthrow of duly elected governments? The FBI, once the fiefdom of one J. Edgar Hoover, the outfit that persecuted antiwar activists and civil rights advocates as communists? James Comey, facrissake, the guy whose ill-advised announcement in late October 2016 might have been the straw that broke Hillary Clinton’s chance of becoming president?

Following the progress of the impeachment inquiry, and this past week watching the public hearings, I’ve added many names to my thank-you list: Bill Taylor, West Point graduate, veteran, member of the Foreign Service; Marie Yovanovitch, Foreign Service; Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, serving officer currently seconded to the National Security Council and working in the White House; Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee that is leading the impeachment inquiry . . .

They’re all in positions to do what they’re doing because they made choices that I didn’t make and, in most cases, for decades did jobs that I can’t imagine doing. We on the outside have our roles to play, of course, but for now I stand and salute them for their courage, their intelligence, their ethical clarity, and their service.


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October License Plate Report

In the license plate game, no news isn’t good news, it’s just no news. Which is to say that you probably guessed from the extreme lateness of this report that there were no new sightings in October. I did cruise through the M.V. Hospital parking lot toward the end of the month to see what I could see. I saw Louisiana and Montana, which would have been exciting last spring, and Texas, South Carolina, and Oregon, which aren’t hard to get but at least aren’t (ho-hum) New York, New Jersey, or any New England state.

But not South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, or Alaska.

Time is running out, but I’m not giving up. One year I spotted Nebraska the last week in December. I clinging hard to that possibility.

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Don’t Look Now, But …

ice disk. . . the first ice disk of the season arrived last night. It did indeed set a record for earliest disk, but it wasn’t as much earlier as I’d been thinking: the previous record was held by the winter of 2017–2018, when the first disk appeared on November 11.

This disk was strong enough to survive the unmolding — I photographed it first, just in case it wasn’t — but fragile enough that it’s gone already.

Aside for readers who don’t know what I’m talking about, and may be afraid that I’ve lost what few marbles I had left: In the winter of 2012–2013 I got the bright idea of unmolding the ice in Trav’s outside water dish. I’ve been at it ever since. Ice disks even have a following on Facebook, and people send me images of elaborate ice disk variations that people in other places have come up with. Here’s a brief history of ice disks from 2015 and a tribute to the most ice disks I’ve ever had at one time (15!) from 2018.

In the last week, I swapped the winter insert for the screen in my storm door and performed the Great Seasonal Clothes Switch. Only three days ago I pulled my two storage boxes from the closet (and even blogged about it!!). Day before yesterday I did the deed. Sunday I took my last outdoor shower of the season; two days later my landlord shut the water off. The big question is whether I knew what was coming or whether I single-handedly forced the temperature down below freezing for long enough to create an ice disk.

The cold snap seems to have accelerated the reddening of my Japanese maple. Just a few days ago all I could see was a reddish tinge in the top branches. This morning this was the view from my window:

tree with reddening foliage

This morning my neighbor noted that there’s a dearth of acorns this year. This is true. We’re surrounded by oak trees a-plenty, and some years acorns pelt the deck so insistently that they interrupt my concentration. (True, it often doesn’t take much.) Not this year. So of course I wondered if this meant we could look forward to a mild winter. A Google search told me that I was not the first to wonder about “scarcity of acorns.” It seems that acorn scarcity was on many minds in 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2015, and it also seems that it’s not a surefire clue to much of anything about the coming winter, except that squirrels and other acorn-dependent wild critters are likely to have a hard time of it.

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Three Seasons on the Line

The oak leaves have turned from brown to crispy. They’re falling, and I still can’t resist kicking my way through them on the path. The birches and beeches are still yellow; the yellow is thinning but it’s still enough to catch the mid-fall light. Cheryl Wheeler’s “When Fall Comes to New England” is running through my head.

fall foliageThe Japanese maple outside my west-facing window is tinged with red at the top. I’ve been tracking this tree since 2012, and the red always starts to show in very early November. By the middle of the month, the red is spectacular. It waits till everything else in the vicinity has passed its color peak, then there it is, catching the light at every time of day in a way that makes me pause in passing to gaze in admiration.

My most reliable guide to the changing of the seasons is the laundry line. I use the washers at the Airport Laundromat, then bring the clean, wet clothes home to hang out. The laundromat does have dryers, of course, but they cost a quarter for a scant four minutes and it takes several quarters to dry jeans and other heavy stuff.

And of course there’s the undeniable attraction of using wind and solar power instead of electricity . . .

So when the clean underwear supply runs low, roughly every three weeks, I watch for the next good drying day — bright sun and a brisk breeze will dry everything in a few hours — and off we go. While the washers wash, Tam and I stroll around the airport grounds and a little way down the dirt road that runs past the beer store, then back along the bike path. When we get home, he watches from the deck as I hang everything out.

Saturday’s laundry had a little bit of almost everything: shorts, summer-weight cotton pants, short-sleeved Ts, long-sleeved Ts, henleys and turtlenecks. We’re far enough into fall that I could barely remember wearing the shorts that were at the bottom of the hamper. What’s missing from the mix is longjohns. That makes this a three-season laundry line.

Three-season laundry line: shorts, T-shirts, turtlenecks, jeans — but no longjohns.

It’s getting colder, however. This was “fall-back” weekend, the end of Daylight Saving Time (which we all know doesn’t save any daylight, it just moves it around a bit). When Tam and I went out this morning a little after 6, the temperature was in the (barely) high 30s Fahrenheit. It’s time to make room in the drawers for longjohns and jeans, room in the closet for more turtlenecks and sweaters. Yesterday I pulled my two boxes of winter clothes out of the closet. Haven’t unpacked them yet, but the time is coming.

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jar of rice next to saucepanAlmost every time I cook rice, I remember my mother warning me not to lift the lid while it was cooking because then it wouldn’t come out right. Somewhere along the way I got brave and discovered that this isn’t true. I lift the lid a couple of times to make sure I catch the rice precisely when it’s absorbed all the water. It comes out fine.

My mother was no cook, but she did manage to keep four kids well fed until we were old enough to fend for ourselves. Neither of my grandmothers was much of a cook either, but along the way I’ve taught myself enough to feed myself pretty well. I credit much of my success to Martha’s Vineyard. There’s no fast food here, so I couldn’t live mostly on Roy Rogers fried chicken, which I was in danger of doing in my D.C. days. Eating out regularly is way above my pay grade, and until fairly recently restaurant fare on the island was mostly mediocre as well as expensive (and often seasonal).

My idea of hell looks something like my mother’s life: preparing meals for four kids (two of us rather finicky) and a husband who often came home late. During my first couple of years on the Vineyard, as I was learning to feed myself, I even wrote a sonnet about it:

I was not close to my mother in the way that word usually suggests: regular phone calls or visits, mutual support, etc. Two of my friends died the same year she did, 1996, and I think of them and miss them far more often than I think of my mother. Not all that surprising, because they were embedded in my day-to-day life in a way my mother wasn’t after I left home. (These two were journalist Gerry Kelly and theater director Mary Payne, for you Vineyard people.)

But in other ways I’m very close to my mother, because I’ve never stopped being wary of the ways I’m like her. Strange (perhaps) but true, however, the harder I tried to be different from her, the more alike we turned out to be. The older I get, the more clearly I see her face when I look in the mirror. Trying to understand her gives me gives me insight into myself.

My mother’s birthday was Hallowe’en, so it’s not just cooking rice that makes me think of her this time of year. When her birthday rolled around, she often repeated something her father (who was not a nice man) said to acknowledge the occasion: “You were born on Hallowe’en, so you’re a witch. If you’d been born a day later, you’d be a saint.”

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Living Dangerously at the Farmers Market

Weekend shocker: Yesterday I bought (i.e., paid for) lettuce. Lettuce does, infrequently, come into my apartment thanks to gardener friends with an excess of greens, but green vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables, are rarely seen in my kitchen. What I wrote quite a few years ago remains true to this day:

Fresh vegetables in general make me anxious; fresh leafy green stuff scares me to death. I love spinach, but buying it is like installing a time bomb in my fridge: if I don’t get to it immediately, it’s in there ticking away, wilting and browning and turning gelatinous around the edges. At that point I can barely bring myself to look in the crisper, whereupon the ticking accelerates and the day fast approaches when the spinach I bought in good faith will resemble something that died on the road.

Here’s how it happened.

Around 11:30 or so yesterday morning I headed off to the Fall Farmers Market in search of Linda Alley’s new New Lane Sundries creation, Apple Rum Raisin Jam. My current fave is Ginger Pear Marmalade (which I was out of), with Cranberry Jalapeño Jam coming up fast on the outside, but Linda doesn’t make a jam, jelly, or marmalade that isn’t delicious, and apple + rum + raisin sounded especially good.

So there I was at the Ag Hall, among Vineyarders in sturdy cool-weather wear browsing the vendors’ tables or sitting down to coffee or lunch with friends. Cruising the hall looking for Linda, I noticed that the Grey Barn & Farm had scallions on offer: my plans for the afternoon included lentil barley soup, and my recipe uses scallions. I’d been planning to buy some at Cronig’s, the next stop on my itinerary. Maybe . . . ?

I moved on, and shortly found Enchanted Chocolates. I have reservations a-plenty about green vegetables but none whatsoever about chocolate, so after taste-testing a milk-chocolate-covered macadamia nut I bought a half-pound bag, and lest it be lonely in my satchel I added a dark chocolate & sea salt bar. Sea salt seems to be in goddamn everything these days, but I have to admit it goes well with chocolate or caramel, and as fads go it sure beats pumpkin spice.

At last I arrived at Linda’s table. My taste-test of Apple Rum Raisin Jam (Linda puts out sample dishes of her wares and little crackers to spread them on) lived up to expectations so I bought a jar of it, along with one of Ginger Pear Marmalade and another of Cranberry Jalapeño Jam. I could have, maybe should have, left the hall right then, but I didn’t. I wandered back to the scallions.

Farmers Market produce is both fresh and notoriously expensive, but Cronig’s isn’t exactly cheap, and my lentil barley soup did need scallions. Still, I wavered. Scallions seemed like such a paltry purchase, especially when right next to me customers were taste-testing the gourmet cheeses in preparation for running up (most likely) a significant tab.

Just to the left of the scallions was a display of cellophane-bundled greens of various sorts. Maybe I’d seem less, well, cheap if I included a bag of mixed lettuce greens with the scallions?

Readers, I bought them both.

When I finally got to Cronig’s, not only did I buy oat groats (I love my oatmeal), tamari, and apples, I bought celery. My lentil barley soup recipe calls for celery, but I invariably omit it and just double the carrots. Carrots keep. Celery turns to gelatinous goo in remarkably short order. Unless stuffed with cream cheese or peanut butter, it’s virtually inedible, and if cream cheese and peanut butter could express an opinion, I’m pretty sure they would hate being coupled with celery. If I could buy a stalk or two of celery at a time, I’d do it, but at least in Vineyard grocery stores that’s not an option.

The lentil barley soup came out great. However, now in my refrigerator’s crisper are half a bunch of scallions, most of a bunch of celery, and a bag of lettuce greens. The clock is ticking.

Need I say that the chocolates are already half gone? In case you’re wondering why I favor chocolate over green vegetables.

Strange bedfellows

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September License Plate Report

This report is late because there’s nothing to report except that there’s nothing to report. No sightings in September. This is not unusual. After August, the pickins get very slim in the license plate game. However, since one year I spotted Nebraska in the last week of December, I am not giving up. Next Sunday there’s an Impeach Trump demo at Five Corners, which the entire island passes through at one time or another. You can bet I’ll be watching the license plates go by.

damaged car

The dent at the bottom is from our 2016 deer run-in. The insurance settlement for that one was $20 (deductible is $500), the damage was strictly cosmetic, so I didn’t get it fixed.

In semi-related news — it relates to cars; is that close enough? — I hit a deer on the way home from a meeting on Friday night, September 27. Or, as is usual in these cases, the deer hit me. Malvina sustained more serious damage than she did in our last deer collision, in October 2016. I suspect the deer sustained worse but I don’t know for sure.

This accident happened on Old County Road, as did the earlier one, about a mile away. According to Wikipedia (did you know Wiki has an entry for “Deer-Vehicle Collisions”?), November is the peak month for deer-vehicle collisions. Other sources note that fall is prime time, and word on the street is that rutting season as something to do with it. Makes sense to me, but surely the earlier and longer dark is also a factor. Deer are harder to see, and they’re easily jacklighted by headlights.

Saturday I reported the accident to my insurance company online, Thursday the estimator came out to assess the damage, and Friday I had the verdict in writing: $1,245 and change, with a $500 deductible. Monday I took car, paperwork, and Tam down to the body shop — and the next available appointment was in the middle of January. They’ll call me if something opens up before then.

Fortunately Malvina is still drivable. The headlight and turn signal still work, though with the cover smashed the headlight doesn’t focus quite the way it should. I haven’t dared lift the hood either, because it’s enough out of alignment that I’m not sure it would close properly again. Naturally I briefly considered trying to find a body shop off-island, but the sheer hassle and expense of getting there and back, and getting around while the work is being done — repair will be a several-day job — squelched that fantasy PDQ.

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Tam Lin’s Summer, 2

dog and toy

Tam hunkers down with his new squeaky monkey.

Yesterday I stopped by SBS to pick up a bag of puppy food. At SBS, emporium for pet, horse, garden, and fowl-keeping supplies, dogs are welcome, so Tam came in with me. Of course I had to buy him a new toy. He chewed on it happily en route to our next stop.

Tam is not hard up for toys. I can’t walk around my studio apartment without squeaking on something. He also has four well-gnawed cow hooves. Stepping on these barefoot — they’re sharp! — is a literal pain, but because of Tam’s toe fetish I’ve usually got shoes on these days. (Why so many? Because when they disappear, I get out a fresh one, whereupon the lost one[s] reappear.)

puppy and green toy

Tam on May 30 with the Green Thing. He figured out PDQ how to stand the thing on one end and make the treats inside fall out.

Most of the toys I bought new or were given to him by friends. He did inherit a few from the late Travvy, but Travvy was tough on toys. Within a day or two, squeakies and stuffies had been disemboweled, leaving stuffing and squeakers all over the floor. The only survivors were a Kong Wobbler, a Kong Wubba (sturdy tug toy that looks sort of like an octopus), two “Genius” toys that Trav lost interest in early on (aka the Green Thing and the Yellow Thing), and an Airdog (which looks like an elongated tennis ball).

puppy and Kong Wobbler

Tam figures out how to make Kong give up its treasure. June 6.

Tam is making good use of his inheritance, although he probably doesn’t know who to thank for it. The Green Thing introduced him to the concept that some toys contained treats and that if something rattled (as opposed to squeaked), persistent experimentation would be rewarded. Before long he graduated to the Kong Wobbler, which has only one small keyhole for treats to come out of. He has now figured out gravity — treats only come out when the hole is pointing downward — though he probably won’t be writing a paper on it any time soon. On the other hand . . .

Tam’s favorite toy may be the ingenious ball in the photo just below. It rolls and it squeaks — what’s not to like? Malamutes are notoriously not big on “fetch.” They love to chase anything that moves — including small animals and free-range chickens, which is why they aren’t trustworthy off-leash except in enclosed areas — but they don’t see the logic in bringing an object back just so you can throw it again. If you want it back, why did you throw it away??

puppy and ball

This squeaky ball was a hit from day 1. Photo from May 23, Tam’s fourth day on the Vineyard.

They can, however, be persuaded to bring the object close enough to you to be exchanged for a treat. I do a lot of this with Tam because Travvy, for all his virtues, was a hardcore resource-guarder: he didn’t like to give anything up. After much practice, he did learn to negotiate: he would give up something he wanted in return for something he wanted more, like a bite of string cheese. But I remained vigilant to avoid my worst-case scenario: that he would grab a kid’s toy, the kid would try to grab it back, and something bad would happen.

With Tam, so far, so good. He’ll almost always trade something he has for something he wants, and often he’ll just let me have it, but when he’s hyper-excited, the “it’s mine” instinct tends to take over. Caution is advised.

The squeaky ball remains a big favorite, and it’s holding up well. The previously clear exterior is now cloudy, but it still rolls and it still squeaks.

puppy and soccer ball

Tam and soccer ball, July 3. At 3 1/2 months he’s beginning to look more like a young dog and less like a puppy.

Soccer balls roll, but they do not squeak. Tam loves them too. We live near the West Tisbury School, where Youth Soccer happens on fall and spring Saturdays and pickup practices and games happen at other times. From time to time, damaged soccer balls wind up in the woods, and a ball that’s too damaged for soccer makes a fine toy for a dog. Those things can be multiply punctured by canine teeth and still roll.

There are two soccer balls in play on the far edge of my neighbors’ lawn. My footwork is improving, but Tam plays good defense and I must kick smart to fake him out. He’ll often chase after a soccer ball with the little squeaky ball in his mouth, and his speed sometimes overtakes his coordination and he winds up somersaulting over the ball.

Tam is already pretty good at amusing himself when he’s not sleeping. This seems to be typical of Alaskan malamutes: they love to play and they love to work, but as long as they get plenty of both they’re also good at chilling. Since I work at home, this is a big plus. The other big plus is that they let me know when it’s time to get up from the computer and do something besides edit, or write, wander around Facebook, or play solitaire. Tam is already pretty good at this.

These two photos were taken two months and four days apart. Eek! Isn’t it amazing how much change can happen right under your nose and you’re barely aware of it?

When I posted the earlier one on Facebook, a couple of people noted that from the back Tam looked rather like a cat. True! I thought immediately of B. Kliban’s wonderful cat cartoon book, in which he observed that a cat is an animal that is frequently mistaken for a meatloaf. (Google B. Kliban cat if you’re not familiar with B. Kliban’s work. It’s wonderful.)

Puppy looking through screen door

Tam watches Bird TV. In the spring neighborhood birds plucked Travvy fur to line their nests. May 31.

young dog looks through screen door

Tam watches avian activity on the deck. They drink from his water dish and sometimes use it as a birdbath. September 3.

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