Those unexpected little extras….

P1060716

Our Norfolk terrier is 21 months old. He came to live with us when he was 4 months old, past the most intensive of the early puppy stages of house training, but still in need of some guidance into the garden. It didn’t take too long; it was a hot summer so doors were open and the penny soon dropped.

During the puppy stage Bosworth emerged as the delightful, interactive dog he is now. Good with children, very friendly and with an amusing line in vocal greetings and a tendency to “chat” or emit little howls of excitement, he also got into chewing – all puppies do – and having reflected on what he has chewed, ruined, and what’s needed replacing etc. since we had him, here’s the current list:

One hairdryer – left unplugged on the bedroom floor and munched to death, wires hanging out of it. Replaced by new one, now stored in a cupboard.

Three duvet covers – pulled off beds as he searched for daughter’s cat who’d been staying. Being a mender rather than a thrower-away, I got out the sewing machine and patched up the gnawed ripped bits. They’re all usable. Good job our guests aren’t fussy!

Three sheets – ditto. Still searching for same cat. Having pulled off the duvets, he had a go at the sheets. Also mended & back in use.

Garden fence take 1 –  the fence  was elderly and good enough to stop The Great Escape happening while he was still in the first puppy stages….until one day he was missing. A hole had been chewed through the bamboo screening attached to our 3 foot trellis fence. He’d squeezed through, had the freedom of the garden backing on to ours and was going crazy searching for the cat who lives there. Returned by the neighbour, who was rather amused. Agree to share cost of new fence.

We call our local fencer who’s done some previous work and fix a date for installation. In the meantime we block off the chewed hole and any other likely escape routes, supervising trips into the garden.

Garden fence take 2 – new fence installed. It’s 6 feet high. Dog sits looking intently and fixedly at fence. A few days later goes missing and is seen racing round the neighbour’s garden again, still trying to find their cat. Said cat is sitting watching this through the patio doors. We find a hole dug under the new fence. He will come to it from the other side but not come through. I go round and try to get into the garden. Side gate is locked, neighbour is out.

We devise a rescue and retrieval operation. We lift one of the bottom panels of the fence and wedge it open. Husband crawls through and gets dog. We tell neighbour what happened and he fills in the escape route hole with concrete.

Garden fence take 3 – dog starts looking intently at other areas of the fence, frequently disappearing behind the arbour in the corner of the garden, where we find him staring at the fence. We keep an eye on him but he finds a way through the corner gap where two panels of the fence meet. We lift the bottom fence panel again, husband crawls through and gets dog. We block the gap.

Garden fence take 4 – we didn’t block it enough. Dog repeats escape. We repeat retrieval procedure. Gap is successfully barricaded and blocked. The garden should now be like Fort Knox.

Garden side gate – dog begins sitting looking intently at the locked side gate, nose down on the small gap beneath it. It’s suspiciously quiet, so I go to check. Dog in process of digging up plants and soil by the gate and adjacent fence. Very swiftly bricks and concrete slabs are put in place. Dog continues to sit and look at gate and fence, but The Great Escape game is over.

Garden bench – we notice he’s started creating a hole underneath the seat of our stone bench on the lawn and say “Oh what the hell – he’s a terrier – let him have a bit of fun!” We’re hoping he’s now past the stage of springing these unexpected extra outlays on us, but to be honest, we did need a new fence anyway…..

 

Safety first

P1060936Not a warning sign you’d ever see in the UK, but in Big Bend National Park in Texas, yes you would.

This was on display near the main visitor centre, and looked new. It was different and more detailed than the warning sign I’d seen about Mountain Lions when I visited the park 10 years ago. This was an update, and it included Black Bears. I had no idea they were in the park.

We didn’t see bears or lions. The nearest we got to a lion encounter was from the safety of our air b’n’b accommodation just outside the park. You can read about it here.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed as there seemed to be less wildlife about on this trip. Yes, there were birds – mainly hawks soaring overhead, and the ever-present turkey vultures. There were small birds too, in the scrubby bushy areas of the desert, which sent me scrabbling for my Birds of Big Bend laminated fold out to ID them, The best and closest sightings were of road runners – appearing too quickly to whip out the camera, and one anxiously rushing past 2 or 3 feet away. It was good to get a close look and see the colours on the head of this eccentric-looking bird.

This trip excelled in the desert flora, with magnificent views of the mountains just about everywhere.

P1060987

Flowering Ocotillo and the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend

A strange gurgling in the night

P1060986There it was again –  a loud, odd gurgling sound – a bit like the warble of a bird but far more urgent. I was suddenly wide awake. Confused too, as I briefly wondered if I was at home and hearing the dawn chorus. But no, I was definitely not at home because I was sleeping in a cabin-style house in the desert, surrounded by mountians. And it was dark.

Something was definitely going on outside. Scuffles? That gurgling noise again, like an alarm call. It stopped and I went back to sleep.

Next morning there was excited talk amongst our family party about the noise which I’d heard, husband had heard, son and daughter-in-law had heard. The grandchildren slept through it all.

Our cabin’s location was just outside Big Bend National Park in the far south of Texas. Wildlife in that area includes deer, road runners, javelina and mountain lions. The conclusion was that what we’d heard was a mountain lion in pursuit of prey. The gurgling sound could have been the prey, or the alarm call of a bird aroused by the lion.

Our son, sleeping at the front of the house, had got up and looked out, shining a torch into the blackness of the night. He’d seen the lion attacking something else; the light from his torch had startled the lion and it (and preseumably the prey) hadP1070004 (2) run off.

We went to look at the loose sand and soil outside the cabin where he’d seen the activity and found the evidence – paw prints and what looked like deer hoof prints. No blood.

Just another night in the desert maybe – but a real bit of colourful excitement for us.

Ever faithful

Dogs with bone

When I visited the Basilica of St. Denis, in the Paris suburb of St. Denis (also the banlieu where, a couple of years ago, an armed seige by police took place after a terrorist terrorist attack in central Paris), I came away with plenty of photos of the stunning tombs of the kings and queens of France who are buried there.

It’s an amazing place to visit, especially if you like cathedrals, but this one is full of effigies, each depicting the deceased in repose with symbols relating to their life included in the marble sculptures. It’s like a cross between a cemetery and an art gallery.

The details on the effigies are impressive, giving them a life-like appearance, even in death. Hands, feet, faces and draped fabric all have an aesthetic beauty.

I was particularly drawn to those effigies which had loyal dogs at their feet. This signifies loyalty to the crown and the sovereign, and dogs are usually found beneath the feet of women or children. If the dogs have a bone between their paws, as in the photo above, it means that the body is buried in the tomb.

Some effigies have lions at their feet and these will always be on the tombs of men. Other animals found beneath feet are dragons, a porcupine and there’s a ferret beneath the feet of a count who was reputed to be a great hunter.

The day I visited Saint Denis it was bitterly cold outside and not much warmer inside the cathedral either, but I forgot about the cold, so stunning were the statues.

It’s beginning to look a lot like that time of year again….

IMG_0547

I’ve just put our very ancient vintage Christmas tree up. It’s an artificial one, made of plastic (shock horror – but it’s not as bad as it sounds). I bought it long long ago – so long ago I can’t remember when, and certainly when excessive use of plastic wasn’t a known problem –  but it was probably sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s. It cost £17, which was quite expensive at that time.

Daughter, who was at primary school when we got this tree, recently sent a link to a short video outlining the pros and cons of plastic v. real Christmas trees. Watching this with the 30+ years of annual outings our tree has had in mind, I know its carbon footprint debt was paid off long ago. We did have a real tree for several years before we went plastic; at the time it seemed more sustainable to have an artificial, reusable tree than to “kill off” a real one every year.

Our trusty tree looks surprisingly good and passably realistic (if you ignore the brown plastic trunk and branches), especially when the lights and baubles are in place hiding the more naff details. It has its own peculiar cachet.IMG_0507

Comparing it with artificial trees in garden centres, it can certainly hold its own, and doesn’t appear too dated. Of course it’s a bit of joke in the family as it has been around for so long, but when grandchildren stayed last year they thought it was pretty good and there were no complaints. Nine-year-old granddaughter’s eyes might have widened a little though, when we told her how old the tree was!

This year, with an 11 month-old-puppy now part of our household, we’ve decided to introduce it gradually to keep the excitement and potential destructive chewing under some kind of control. I put it together in another part of the house, added the lights, then brought it into the room where it now stands, as yet untrimmed. There was interest, sniffing, a quick grab at the festive “skirt” I’d put around the base, which he sank his fangs into immediately. That won’t be going back! Then said puppy, curiosity satisfied for the time being, settled down to snooze beside the tree. Maybe that’s a good sign.

As long as he realises it’s not a pee post!