Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nutrition And Me

For breakfast this morning, I ate an egg.  It used to be you couldn't eat eggs, because they were full of cholesterol and they would clog up your arteries and you would die young.  But now eggs are fine--an excellent source of protein and omega-3 oils and other good things.  So I'm eating eggs again.

I put salt on my egg , too.  For a while in the 80s salt was considered a killer, so I banished it from my cooking.  I even found a way to make bread without using salt, and wrote an article about how to do this (it isn't easy).  It turns out, however, that a no-salt diet is terrible for people with low blood pressure, especially for people with CFS and low blood pressure, so now I'm back to salting my food.

I cooked my egg in olive oil.  Olive oil is the ultimate soul food for me. It is also pure fat, and my collection of non-stick pans attests to my fat-free period, sometime in the 90s, brought on by the Zeitgeist notion that you could eat just about anything without gaining weight (even cookies, especially cookies) as long as you steered clear of fat.

In addition to the egg, I had a small bowl of oatmeal.  Oatmeal is loaded with carbs, of course.  I lost a ton of weight back in the 70s on a practically-no-carb diet.  I remember going into ketosis (a good thing, according to the diet book) and buying a whole new wardrobe. I also remember experiencing some savage food cravings.  I know better now, of course, and have welcomed carbohydrates back into my diet.

As I sweetened my oatmeal with a little Vermont maple syrup--pure sugar, you know--I thought back to those grim days (was it in the 80s or 90s?) when, cowed by the fear of hypoglycemia and obesity, I eliminated sweetness from my life. 

Having finished breakfast, I poured my daily regimen of vitamins and supplements into a pill box, and it struck me how the contents of that little box had changed over the years. They used to include megadoses of C (eventually proven to be ineffective against colds), later a good dollop of E (but no more, since it's supposed to be bad for you), also some gingko capsules (which we now know do nothing for memory), and I've forgotten what else.

Although my supplement list is pretty pared down these days, I do add some Vitamin D--the vitamin that our naked ancestors following game all day on the savanna got plenty of.  The vitamin that we, slathered in sunscreen, swathed in synthetic fabrics and imprisoned indoors by our computers year round, are pathetically  deficient in.

I usually listen to NPR's Morning Edition during breakfast, have been doing so for years.  That is where I get a lot of my knowledge about which substance to banish from my diet and which to welcome back like a nutritional prodigal son. 

Today, no sooner had I doled out my dose of Vitamin D than I heard a reporter say that research has shown that recent claims that we need Vitamin D supplementation in doses as high as 4,000 i.u./day are fallacious and misleading.  We might need, the new research indicates, at most one tenth of that.

Feeling foolish, I put my D capsules back in the bottle.  But I did not throw them away.

I'm keeping them for the day when somebody in a lab somewhere determines that megadoses of Vitamin D are in fact the key to vibrant health.  I just hope that my sound nutritional practices enable me to live until then.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Orchestra Tales, Part The Third: The Earrings

Four years after my disgraceful but relieving exit from the Birmingham Youth Orchestra, my father continued to worry about my lack of ensemble experience.  When the woman who played in the last stand of the second violin section of the Birmingham Symphony went on maternity leave, he got me an audition with the conductor, and I was hired as a temporary replacement.

My stand partner was an elderly gentleman--he was probably in his fifties, but to my eighteen-year-old eyes he seemed decrepit--short, round, and balding.  He can't have been a very good violinist, consigned as he was at the very end of the second violin rows, right up against the percussion section, but he knew his way around an orchestra score.

I, on the other hand, did not.  It's not that I wasn't able to play the parts--they were not technically demanding--but I kept getting lost.  If I blinked and missed a single note, I could never find my place on the score again.  The entire string section would be galloping ahead and there I was, embarrassed to be seen not playing along, frantically scanning the page to find something that vaguely resembled the notes I was hearing.  Sometimes my stand partner would take his bow off the strings for a nanosecond and point to the right spot on the score, but by the time I put my bow on my strings, I'd be doubly embarrassed, and behind again.

The long rests were the worst.  In an orchestra score, there are frequently rests of forty measures or more.  One is not during those intervals supposed to take short naps or review the twelve cranial nerves for the next day's biology exam.  One is supposed to count measures:  one, two, three, four;  two, two three, four;  three, two, three, four,  all the way to measure forty-seven or whatever.  Invariably, however, by the sixth measure, I was lost--was it six, two, three, four, or seven, two three four?  My only recourse was to watch my neighbor, and start playing when he did.

But there was one situation in which he could not help me, and that was at page-turning time.  As the "inside" partner--the one playing in the seat farther from the audience--it was my job to turn pages for both of us.  This gave me a great deal of anxiety.  What if I was lost when it was time to turn the page?  What if, while holding my bow  with the last three fingers of my right hand as I grasped the corner of the page with my index and thumb, my bow or, God forbid, the entire score fell clattering to the floor?

My months with the Birmingham Symphony were punctuated with musical faux pas.  There was the time when, daydreaming during one of those long rests, I jumped a foot in the air as the percussionist clashed the cymbals right behind me...and the conductor saw me.  And once I committed that ultimate orchestral sin, the accidental solo.  Thank goodness this happened during a rehearsal early on, after which I rigorously abstained from playing either the first or the last notes of any score segment.

I was a freshman in college, majoring in Biology and French, teaching French and Spanish in the afternoons to school children, helping my mother around the house.  Spending my evenings at rehearsal and my weekends playing concerts was not my idea of fun.

During my stint at the BSO, I don't think I ever talked with anybody, least of all my aged stand partner.  I spent rehearsal breaks practicing whatever solo pieces my father had assigned me. I was tired.  I had homework.  I wanted out of there.

Mercifully, in the spring the woman I was replacing announced her plans to return to the Symphony.  I was elated--just one more concert and I would be free.  

As we were putting away our instruments after the last performance, my stand partner dug a small paper bag out of his violin case and handed it to me.  Inside were two earrings, clip-ons with yellow rhinestones arranged in the shape of a treble clef.  They were clearly second-hand, since they weren't attached to the little cardboard square that store-bought earrings come with.  They looked hopelessly middle-aged to me, and I wondered as I stared at them whether they belonged to his wife.  I remember thinking how weird it was to be given earrings by this grandfatherly person.

Fortunately, the gods who watch over teenagers and sometimes keep them from disgracing themselves inspired me to put the earrings on right there, and say a hurried thank-you.  Then I closed my violin case and walked out of the Birmingham Symphony for good.

Those earrings rattled around in my jewelry box for a while, and then I gave or threw them away.
  
But now that I myself have begun to seem elderly to all but my contemporaries, I recognize the sweetness of the impulse of that long-ago violin player to give a gift of earrings to his hopelessly young and inept temporary stand partner.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Catalog Shopping

Spent some time the other day looking through a fat catalog of late-Gothic sculpture in U.S. collections.  I had no idea there were so many of those objects in this country.
 
Thinking of the additional thousands of ancient statues scattered throughout Western Europe, my vision of the era changed from one of peasants toiling in the fields and nobles hunting with falcons to entire populations carving away at limestone, alabaster, and linden wood, making virgins and  crucified christs by the dozen, comely saint catherines, and kinky saint sebastians.

Statues of the Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus outnumbered everything else in the catalog, evidence that even after 1500 years of Christianity, the Goddess had not loosened her grip on the people. She is represented standing up, one hip cocked, the opposite knee visible under the draperies that swoop up across her middle and are caught under (and lead our eye to) the arm that is holding the Child. That arm is sometimes the right one, but the left is much more common, because as any mother knows, infants are calmer when they feel their mother's heartbeat. 

These madonnas have come a long way from the gravitas of their Romanesque predecessors, who glared at the faithful cowering at the foot of their thrones.   Their plump faces framed by long curls, these later virgins smile beningly at their infants, or at the worshippers, or at their own thoughts.  Their bodies twisted in a graceful contrapposto, their draperies swirling about their legs, they look like at any moment they might take flight, or start dancing.

Speaking of which, against all national stereotypes, the Catalan and Spanish statues are almost invariably reserved and hieratic, whereas the German saints with their spiraling garments and sinuous limbs look like flamenco dancers.  The Dutch pieces are the wildest, including a half-undressed St. Sebastian wearing a fashionable courtier's hat, and a crucifix in which the ends of the dead Christ's loin cloth fly out behind him in whiplash curves reminiscent of Art Nouveau.

The sight of all this bounty disgorged by the churches of old Europe gave me a hankering to possess just one piece of my very own--a  linden-wood Saint Catherine with maybe a couple of fingers missing, or an apple-cheeked Madonna holding a headless Child.  Something  unimaginably old, but somehow still alive.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mulch Hay

Got six bales of mulch hay today, a kind of vegetable duvet that I plan to apportion to various living beings around here, i to make their winter more comfortable.

A couple of bales will go around the feet of the climbing roses I planted last summer against the chicken-shed wall.  Climbing roses are supposed to be tough.  But this will be my roses' first winter, and their name, "New Dawn," makes them sound so young and fragile that I'm going to give them a nice thick mulch this year.

I will also mulch the seven lavender bushes growing against the stone wall in front of the house.  Not only did they survive last winter, but they produced an amazing crop of blossoms right through the middle of November.  Some of their flowers, which I picked and dried in early summer, are now inside the scented "eye pillow" that helps me go to sleep at night.
  
I believe that the lavender's survival was due not only to the warmth of the sun that the stone wall captured and retained, but to the excellent snow cover we got last winter.  Unfortunately, since  thanks to global warming, even in Vermont we can't count on heavy snows,  my lavender bushes will need hay to protect them if the snow is scarce.

Most of the hay, however, will go to the chickens.  Now that the goats are gone, my six hens have almost 130 square feet of coop space.  While that guarantees against the evils of overcrowding--hysteria, depression, and cannibalism--six birds hardly generate enough heat to warm up that much space.

The answer is a nice, deep, dry, crunchy bed of hay.  Something they can scratch around in, peck at, poop on.  Something to keep their skinny chicken feet away from that freezing-cold plywood floor.  Something to spread on the garden next spring.

And something to keep me, as I snuggle under my duvet at night, from fretting about my six girls while the wind howls outside.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Intermittent Reinforcement

The weather has turned warmish, and the frogs that were hibernating in the muck at the bottom of our pond are surfacing again.  Yesterday one of them was actually out of the water, sitting on the little marble block which was a favorite frog sunbathing spot back when there was sun.  It's a strange sight to see a frog on the patio in the middle of stick season.  I wonder what other wild critters are finding this warm spell confusing.

One of the confused critters is Bisou.  After there was an ice skin on the pond for several mornings in a row, she had finally stopped dipping her ears in the water, hoping for frogs every single time she went outside.  Yesterday, however, I saw her at the sliding door, and the wag of her tail told me, without my even looking out, that there was a frog on the patio.

So now it's started all over again, Bisou dipping her head in the water seventeen times a day, coming inside with dripping ears that need to be dried, wanting to go outside again....That frog on the patio constitutes intermittent reinforcement, which, if I recall correctly, renders a behavior harder to extinguish than 100% positive reinforcement.  Which means that if, when Bisou looks out, sometimes there is a  frog on the patio and sometimes there isn't, she'll be more persistent in her frog hunting than if there always were a frog on the patio (which might get boring).

In other news, last Halloween night a crime took place which struck horror into the hearts of the inhabitants of our micro-village.  A guy in a gorilla suit went to someone's door and stabbed the man who opened it twenty-five times.

Coming on the heels of a robbery at the village store, this event had many of us rethinking our habit of leaving cars and houses unlocked.  But now it appears that the gorilla episode was a hoax perpetrated by the supposed victim, who apparently was so desperate for entertainment (and here it isn't even winter yet) that he stabbed himself twenty-five times. 

A cautionary note for those considering moving to our idyllic region:  cabin fever--even in stick season--poses as real a danger in these parts as road-rage and street crime do in places where there are no frogs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Orchestra Tales, Part The Second: Why I Hate Die Meistersinger


At the final rehearsal before one of our concerts, things were not going well.  We were playing the overture to Wagner's Die Meistersinger, and something we were doing was bothering the conductor.  He kept stopping and explaining--it seemed to have to do with us first violins--making us repeat, beating his baton on the lectern, and explaining some more.

Way in the back of the section, I as usual had no idea what he was saying.  I was counting the minutes until time to go home.  I wasn't even watching the concertmaster, the blue- and brown-eyed boy, very much.  "Let's try it again," said the conductor.  "And this time..." but again, I didn't understand him.

We played a few measures, the ones where the strings go up and up a series of intervals.  "Stop!" he yelled, at the top of his voice.  "You!!  Back there!"  and he jumped off the podium and walked to where I sat with my violin under my chin.  He stood over me in a fury, yelling and jabbing his finger at my music and waving his baton until his breath ran out.

If there is one thing worse than being yelled at in front of an orchestra of teenagers (and I had never been yelled at by anyone before, except my mother), it is not understanding the content of the yells, because then the tone and the body language and the grimacing face convey rage at a much scarier, primordial, animal level.

The rehearsal over, I wept in the car all the way home.  I'd had it with the Youth Orchestra.  I'd had it with sitting all week in school not understanding what anybody said;  trying to keep up and do my homework on weeknights; helping my mother with housework on Saturday; and then spending Sunday morning at Mass and the afternoon in rehearsal, being yelled at.

Miraculously, for once, my parents relented.  My father spoke to the conductor, who played violin in the Birmingham Symphony, and explained that I hadn't understood him.  He, the conductor, in turn apologized to me.  But even then I disliked people who yelled and later apologized, and didn't really forgive him.

Maybe my father got tired of driving me to and from rehearsals on Sunday afternoons.  Maybe he and my mother decided that I had enough on my plate.  In the end, I didn't have to go to rehearsals anymore.

To this day, in a persistent Pavlovian reflex, when Die Meistersinger overture comes on our local public radio station, I turn it off.  I hate the bombast of the opening measures, despise the strings' endless climbing scales.

And every time, as I switch off, I am touched that my parents gave in to me, stopped forcing me to do something I hated and was scared of--that they were soft.  They probably felt guilty at not insisting that I do what was "good for me," little knowing that, many decades later, that single instance of parental indulgence would become one of my most cherished memories.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Orchestra Tales, Part The First: Why I Hate Die Meistersinger

Shortly after we arrived in the U.S., my father, who thought I could use some ensemble-playing experience, signed me up for the Birmingham Youth Orchestra.  Every Sunday afternoon he would deposit me and my violin in a drab, fluorescent-lit rehearsal space in pre-civil-rights downtown Birmingham and come back to fetch me two hours later.

Those rehearsals were a kind of purgatory for me.  Sitting in the back of the first-violin section, I thrashed like a shipwrecked sailor in a sea of sounds and rests and strange notations.  "Watch the conductor," my father would say as he drove me.  "Always keep your eye on the conductor, or you'll get lost."  

As far as I could tell, however, the conductor--a man with thick hair, a big nose and round tortoise-shell glasses--just waved his arms in random patterns, stopping frequently to complain about our playing. Instead, I watched, as best I could, the concertmaster, a curly-haired boy who seemed impossibly mature to me--he must have been all of seventeen.  When he started to play, I started to play.  When he stopped, I tried to stop too.
  
I should note, while we're on the subject of the concertmaster, that he had one pale-blue eye and one eye as dark brown as mine.  I used to sneak looks at those eyes during breaks, which I otherwise spent pretending to clean the rosin off my bow.  I didn't talk to the other players--my English was too rudimentary to understand their chatter, let alone contribute to it.

The only positive aspect of playing in the orchestra, as far as I was concerned, was that for concerts we girls were supposed to wear black skirts, white blouses, and stockings.

Even though I was fourteen and fully equipped to play my part in perpetuating the human race, my mother kept me in short dresses that tied in a bow at the back, and short white socks.  But since the orchestra's dress code demanded it, she had to get me a pair of stockings--and a garter belt to hold them up.

I was thrilled with the stockings (this was a few years before pantyhose burst on the scene), but less so with the garter belt.  For, in order to hold up the hose, the upper rim of the garter belt had to exert pressure on the curve of the lower back, just above the hips.  This produced a peculiar agonizing ache that I recognized a decade later, when I was in labor with my first child.  (To be  continued.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Fly And I

Several years ago I did a stint as academic dean at a small, private, liberal arts women's college.

In case it's been a while since you've perused college catalogs, the words "small, private, liberal arts, women's" stand--among other things--for "caring, personal, and supportive," a place where you, the student, will be treated as the unique individual you are.  A place where everybody, from the president to the cafeteria ladies, knows your name. 

One of my supposedly less-demanding tasks was to call out names at the graduation ceremony as the president handed each senior her diploma.  At graduation rehearsal after my first year on the job, however, it became apparent that just reading names in an appropriately solemn tone was not as easy as it seemed.
As I was going down the list, I became momentarily distracted, looked up from my sheet, skipped a line and called the wrong name, not realizing that the person walking across the dais was not the one whose name I had just said.

At a bigger school, say Indiana or NYU, the mix-up would have caused sniggers and cynical remarks along the lines of, what do you expect, in a place this size, how can anybody know who anybody is, and who cares anyway?But at a small, private, liberal arts women's college, this was irrefutable evidence that I did not know the name of my graduates. 

And if I didn't know every student by name, if I was so removed from the very life-blood of the college as to not even realize that I had called a senior in her moment of glory by the wrong name, what kind of caring, supportive, emotionally-present dean (and a woman at that!) was I?


This kind of lapse could be laughed off at rehearsal, but if it happened during the real ceremony, in front of the assembled ancestors (who had paid zillions of dollars in tuition just to have their daughter's name skipped by some cold-hearted administrator) it would be a not-minor disaster.

Graduation day arrived, and the graduates in their gowns, the mothers in their Laura Ashleys, the grandmothers in their little hair helmets, and the florid dads in their navy blazers assembled in a dogwood-and-azalea-speckled dell.
Behind me on the dais sat the faculty, hooded and robed and already bored  The president stood beaming by the pile of diplomas.  I stood behind the lectern, with the list of graduates before me and feeling anxious.

I was anxious because I'm notoriously bad at names, and though in the preceding two semesters I had met and liked a good many of the seniors, the truth was that I could only put names to at most ten percent of their faces, a ratio that, under the present pressured circumstance and with the students decked in identical caps and gowns, would probably plummet to two percent.
It was crucial, then, that once I'd called the first name and launched the first senior towards the dais, I keep going down the list without interruption, and not lose my place.

The processional ended, the invocation followed, the president made his speech, a generous donor was honored with a pretend doctorate.  And now came the moment everyone in the audience had waited for, the culmination of four years of nights in the library and meltdowns in the dorm and starchy meals in the cafeteria.  It was time for me to start calling names.


I jabbed my finger next to the first name and called it.  Cheers, cameras, applause.  Congratulatory murmurs from the president behind me.  I moved my stiffened index down to the next name, and called it, and then the next.  I began to feel more confident:  the trick was to put my finger by the name and keep it there until the graduate had left the dais, then move the finger down and call the next name.  And concentrate.

I was about halfway down the list and doing well.  The next name was Anne Marie Louise MacAllister-Provenzano.  But as I took a preparatory breath, a fly, drunk on dogwood and azalea pollen, flew into my mouth and down my throat.

The earth stood still.  I knew that if in any way I acknowledged, even to myself, the presence of that fly in my trachea, I would go into such a fit of coughing and gagging that it would stop the proceedings at best and cause me to vomit into the nearest azalea at worst.  And, if I survived, I would never find my place on the list again.

So, making bowels into heart, as we say in Spanish (hacer de tripas corazon), I pressed my index finger on the page, bore down with my diaphragm, and proclaimed, "Anne Marie Luise MacAllister-Provenzano!"

Somehow, I made it to the end of the list without choking, mixing up names, or giving any indication that, though I wished them all well from the bottom of my heart, I had no idea which smiling young face went with what name.  As for the fly, it dissolved without a trace in my alveoli.

Whenever life seems hard and my moral stamina feels soft,  I think back to that spring day in the dappled sunshine of the dell.  I feel my finger pressing down on the paper, feel that fly buzzing in my lungs, and think, I can manage--all I have to do is make bowels into heart.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bisou In The Storm

Yesterday, while the nor'easter was raging, I let the dogs out to relieve themselves. Bisou, who cannot accept that her frogs have gone into hibernation, shot out the door and ran to the edge of the pond, in hopes that one or two of them would be relaxing on the slush.

This being only her second winter, however, she forgot to allow extra room for braking, and slid into the water with a big splash.  Before I could jump in and rescue her, she swam across the slush like an icebreaker, and crawled out.

Concerned that she would die of hypothermia, I ran to get a big towel, but when I returned to the back door she had disappeared.  Had she fallen in again?

Then I saw a red blur hurtling towards me from the field.  She whizzed past me like a comet, then reversed direction and headed for the field again.  Over and over, while the rain and sleet and snow battered the landscape, she ran around the yard as fast as her legs would carry her.  

She ran up to Wolfie and Lexi, who were wisely trotting back towards the house, and jumped at their faces and barked, then did a few more laps, barked some more, and finally resigned herself to coming inside.

I rubbed her dry with the towel and gave her yet another talk about the need for prudence, etc.  Then she bolted upstairs, flung herself on her fleece afghan, and took a long, long nap.

 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bulletin From The Well

Ever since I got back from the trip down South to see my mother, I've been at the bottom of a CFS well.  Whenever I try to scramble up its slippery walls, the CFS gods shove me down again.  They are angry at me for traveling, for attempting to maneuver my limp mother to a more comfortable position in her bed, for resuming my regular routines after coming back.  I may have to stay quietly in the well a while, until the gods forget about me.

Meanwhile, inspired by Bridget's post, http://south-city-musings.blogspot.com/2010/11/some-good-news.html, I have made a list of good things around and in me:

1.  We're in the grip of a raging nor'easter, and the house is being pelted with sleet, snow, and freezing rain.  I am inside.

2.  Bisou is cuddled up next to me, on the fleece afghan that is now hers because a) she loves it so much, and b) she has chewed a corner of it.

3.  There is food in the fridge and freezer for a healthy dinner tonight. 

4.  Nothing hurts. 

5.  My kindly spouse will stop at the bookstore on his way back from town and pick up two books for me.  If you have a phobia of being stuck in airports without a book, you can understand mine of being bookless during a CFS relapse.  The books are Joanna Trollope's The Other Family and Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, both of them sure to be well written while not overly taxing the brain (I lose about 30% of my mental capacity during a CFS relapse).

6.  The frustration and despair of the last few days have evaporated, and now I'm floating in a kind of Buddhist bath, having let go of desires, detached from outcomes, and anchored myself in the present which, taken moment by moment, is not all that bad. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Greens, Endless Greens

We're deep into stick season here--you know, the weeks after the maples and the sumac and the Virginia creeper drop their leaves (sic transit gloria mundi) and all you see is gray sticks under gray skies.


In the vegetable garden, the beans, tomatoes and other fair-weather friends are long gone.  The raised bed frames have been installed, though, alas, not yet filled with dirt and compost.  All the raised bed frames, that is, except for the three that are supposed to go on the beds where stuff is still growing.

And what stuff is still growing so lushly and relentlessly that you'd think it's midsummer instead of stick season?  The two immortals, of course:  chard and kale.

Every week since June I have given the local food bank between five and eleven pounds of c and k.  I have shared the bounty with my friends and my dogs (the latter love to gnaw on raw kale).  I have blanched and frozen quarts of the stuff.  And still it keeps coming.

And because I know that any night now the winds will howl and it will get really cold--like, into the teens--and there will be no more fresh home-grown vegetables until next April, I feel compelled to keep harvesting while I may.

So it's chard or kale, kale or chard, every night.  I blend the green du jour into soups, fold it into omelettes, mix it with cheese in quiches.  Slather it with bechamel and hide it in casseroles.  Boil it with rice and feed it to the dogs.
  
Out of recipes as well as patience, I echo the exasperated cry of Henry II, who'd had it up to here with Thomas a Becket: "Will no one rid me of these turbulent greens?"

Any volunteers out there?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wolfie Makes A Statement

Here is a confession:  none of the three male dogs I've had in my life--two German Shepherds and one Shitzy-Poo--has ever cocked his leg to pee.  The trainers to whom I have mentioned this have given me such funny looks that I have not pursued the matter further.

Wolfie, despite his size, black coat, massive head and general commanding air, was no exception to this rule.  That is, until today, when we went on our weekly walk with his friend Gunner and his owner.  

Gunner is less than a year old, and almost as big as Wolfie.  Until now, he has been the Beta of the pair, and hasn't minded it at all.

Being the Beta means engaging in highly ritualized play in which Wolfie always does the chasing, and Gunner always gets caught and rolled and gets up again so Wolfie can chase him some more.  It also means that periodically Wolfie holds his head up and looks dreamily into the distance while Gunner, ears back and tail wagging, licks at Wolfie's lips.

But because I was gone last week, it had been a fortnight since the two had seen each other, and the minute they met today, it was clear that something had changed:  before Wolfie realized what was going on, Gunner was chasing him

Wolfie eventually recovered his wits and did some corrective dramatics involving a curious high-pitched bark, some flashing of his big white canines, and some bumping into Gunner to get him to back off.  This worked momentarily, but soon Gunner was chasing him again.
 
It was all in good fun, and Gunner was smiling the entire time.  But Wolfie wasn't smiling.  Something was going on with unneutered Gunner's hormone levels, and Wolfie didn't like it.  He rounded on Gunner, flashed his teeth, stood on his hind legs and pushed Gunner away.  Then, looking annoyed, he marched over to a nearby bush, cocked his leg, and peed.

After that, they returned to their old rituals, Gunner in front, running for all his worth, Wolfie behind catching, then rolling Gunner, then Gunner taking off again.

By the time he's a year, Gunner, who is already enormous for a nine-month-old, will be bigger than Wolfie.  By then, he will also have been neutered.  I am curious to see what these changes will portend for their relationship.  

Will Gunner's dwindling hormones help to maintain the status quo? Will his size advantage lead him to challenge Wolfie for the Alpha spot?  Or will Wolfie, with his seniority and new leg-cocking skills, retain his place at the top? 

Part of me is fascinated by their rituals and displays.  But part of me finds their posturing annoyingly reminiscent of certain faculty meetings in my academic past and wishes they'd get over it, already.