Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Socializing Puppies

Because the roads between her house and mine were passable, and her twelve-week-old Cavalier puppies needed to be exposed to big dogs, my friend brought three of Bisou's half siblings to our yard to play yesterday.

But before we let my dogs out, my friend, my husband and I set about putting up a makeshift fence of chaises longues around the fishpond.  The yard is large, the pond is small, and the human-to-puppy ratio was one-to-one, yet no sooner had we put up the first chaise, than one of the puppies fell in.  No sooner had he been fished out, than he fell in again.

As I ran indoors to get a towel, I wondered why that puppy, who could have wandered anywhere in the yard, had instead chosen to fall into the very pond that we were trying to keep him out of.  It occurred to me that this was another instance of the "dogs-on-the-rug" behavior:  have you ever bent to straighten a crooked rug without all the dogs in the house instantly converging on that rug?

The diving puppy and the dogs on the rug exhibit the trait that is responsible for the early domestication of the dog as hunting companion, a trait that no other animal--not even ASL-speaking primates--possesses:  the tendency to focus on whatever their human is focusing on.

After we got the puppy dried off and the chaises aligned around the pond, I brought out Bisou.  She was delighted with her two half-brothers and -sister, and showed it by growling at them and standing over them as they rolled onto their backs.  Bisou is a great growler at dogs, but only those she likes.

Then it was time for the piece de resistance, Wolfie.  Lest he overwhelm the puppies, who were barely as big as Wolfie's head, I put him on the leash, and it was all I could do to slow him down a bit as he catapulted towards them.  As he bent to sniff them, the two males scooted under a chair, but the little female ran around behind and sniffed him.  "There," I said to my friend, "goes Bisou's true sister."

Speaking of Bisou, when she's around my two shepherds, she looks to me like a mere wisp of a dog.  Next to the puppies, however, she looked amazingly powerful and robust.  Size perception is so relative.  I remember changing my two-year-old daughter's diaper after bringing her newborn sister home from the hospital and thinking "What is this huge child doing still in diapers?  She needs to get toilet-trained right away!"  And she was.

Eventually we put Wolfie on a down-stay and the puppies each had a cautious sniff, after which they collapsed into a pile and fell asleep.  We recognized that they had absorbed all the socialization they were capable of, and called it a day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

After Irene: Vermont's Apple Trees

In the long litany of disasters that fills our eyes and ears these days--houses washed away, roads caved in, seven covered bridges destroyed--that other Vermont icon, the apple tree, is mostly doing fine.  Sure, some old and sick ones, some very young ones, have perished.  But on the whole, Vermont's apple orchards and the upcoming apple harvest have survived Irene.

My own micro orchard of two tiny trees, Liberty and Freedom, is prospering.  They are loaded with big, healthy-looking apples, and throughout the storm I kept checking on them.  I was ready to see those apples of my eye roll to the ground like balls in a bowling alley.  But the trees stood firm, and every single apple clung staunchly to its branch.

I love Vermont's apple trees:  wild unkempt ones that shower their sour fruit onto the roads;  a single ancient one respectfully preserved in a manicured lawn;  old orchards guarding genetic treasures behind crumbling stone walls;  new orchards laid out in trim military ranks.  And I love the festival of apple harvest with its cornucopia of cider, cider donuts, apple pies, apple sauce, apple fritters.  In Vermont there is an apple for every taste:  red, green, yellow, sweet, tart, crunchy, mealy, good for baking, good for pies, good for cider, good for you.  I had no idea that such a tiny state could grow such variety of apples.

I had no idea that such a tiny state could harbor so much destruction, so much sorrow.  But I look at the apple trees and I know that the coming harvest will provide the first opportunity for joyful gatherings around the state.  An apple, after all, is a happy thing.  A tree loaded with reddening globes is a sight to gladden even the weariest of hearts.  I'm glad that 2011 is turning out to be a good year for apples.  Heaven knows we need them.   

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

H Is For Hurricane, Hurrying Here

We've been practicing for Irene for the last week, with two prolonged power outages brought on by relatively minor storms.

Now that we have a generator, we are spared the worst:  lack of water from our electric well pump.  The generator also ensures that the season's harvest stays frozen in the freezer, and the leftovers in the fridge don't morph into deadly poisons.

Otherwise, we have some choices to make:  running the microwave vs. the computer, the chicken coop light vs. the TV.  I can take a shower with hot water, but not blow-dry my hair, because that takes too much power.  Ditto for the electric stove.

Meanwhile, in the garage, right next to the living room,  the generator blasts on, making more racket than the battle of the Somme, upsetting the dogs--Bisou takes refuge between my ankles--and wreaking god-knows-what havoc in the psyche of the hens, whose shed adjoins the garage.  And yards of thick extension cords snake through the house, tripping us in the dark. 

Can you tell how spoiled I am?  Here I enjoy, in the direst emergency, luxuries unimagined by the chieftains of Amazonian tribes, and I complain.  Where are my mettle, my spirit of sacrifice?  Power outages force us--except for the cans of gasoline needed to run the generator--to save a bit of energy.  What will I do when (not if, alas) Armageddon strikes?

So, a grudging welcome to you, Irene.  Next week may well prove the dress rehearsal for the man-made disasters that await us.  And we need all the practice we can get.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

G Is For Glad glad I finished construction of my tabs.

You can now see my sculpture and illustrations, and read a speeded up version of my life and miracles.  And you can tell me what you think.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

F Is For Food

...and also for Fate, which has decreed that our garage shall be devoured by porcupines.

In June, our drawn-out battles with the porcupine who'd been eating the garage all spring came to a bloody end (you can read about it here).

At the time, one of you commented that she hoped he was the only one.  After a post in which I wrote about hearing hair-raising screams in the night, another of you said that perhaps it was a porcupine in mourning.  You were both right:  he was not the only one, and now one of his survivors is gnawing on the garage.

Is it the porcupine's widow, trying to assuage her grief by feasting on the painted wood?  Is it a son or daughter bent, like Orestes or Electra, on avenging the father's murder?  Or is it just a random porcupine, one of the procession of deer, fisher cats, turkeys, bears and moose that casually roam our land?  Was he waddling his way down to the river, perhaps, when the irresistible smell of our garage wafted across the field, into the woods, and drew him like a magnet?

In any case, we are at war again.  This time, however, we will not fool around with humane traps, hardware cloth or sprigs of mint, but will go straight for deadly force:  Grandma Rube's pheasant-hunting gun.  But first, of course, we have to be made aware of the creature's presence, which means once again rigging up the motion detector that will turn a radio on in the house.  Which means extension cords snaking through the kitchen, and the radio coming on every time a butterfly flits by.  It also means keeping the gun in readiness by the front door, and hiding it when anybody comes to the house.  And it means a killing, which, however justified, is never less than awful.

Somebody once wrote that the peace of the countryside is an urban myth.  So true.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Summer Of Love, 1967

It was a hot and muggy summer in Alabama.  In the afternoon, terrific thunderstorms would roll in.  Skirts were short, hair was long, and "Puff, the Magic Dragon," with its deliciously illicit resonances, played on the radio.  We were mere infants, and I'm surprised that our parents allowed us to get married.  But, of course, they were young too....

                                                                    Can you tell who's who?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Requiem For A Squash Vine

My vegetable garden is going to hell in a hand basket.  Well, not the whole garden, but the two beds in which I planted a delicata and a butternut squash vine respectively.  The vines have fallen prey to that arch-enemy of cucurbits, the squash bug.

I have been growing vegetables off and on since 1975, and this is the first time I've had a problem with bugs.  Sure, there were always a few Japanese beetles nibbling at the bean leaves, and cabbage butterflies laying eggs that would hatch into gray-green caterpillars in the broccoli, and slugs making holes in the lettuce.  But I've never had bugs come anywhere near killing a plant.

The squash bugs have.  Their first victim was the splendid delicata vine, which bore seven beautiful green-striped squashes and a dozen flowers promising more.  One day I noticed a bunch of odd-looking orange-colored eggs on top of a leaf.  The next time I looked, there were thousands of gray bugs of all different sizes hanging like bunches of grapes from the stems, the leaves, the fruit.  In a week, the plant was dead.

I picked the seven squashes, which hadn't quite reached maturity, roasted and pureed them and put them in the freezer.

Having sucked all the nourishment out of the delicata vine, the bugs have now assaulted the butternut plant.  It is full of glorious big squashes that are nowhere near ripe.  I doubt that the vine will survive long enough for them to mature.

Short of blasting them with heavy-duty insecticides, there is not much you can do about squash bugs other than pick them by hand.  I could spend the rest of the summer doing just that, but I would have to stop writing, drawing, reading, cooking, and living to dedicate myself exclusively to squashing squash bugs.

I thought that if I lived right and used plenty of compost, my vegetables would be invulnerable to pests and disease.  But it turns out that in gardening, as in the rest of life, being righteous is no guarantee of anything.  If there is any justice in the universe, when good gardeners die we will be given allotment plots in heaven where we can spend eternity growing organic veggies free from the scourges of mildew, bugs, drought, and untimely frosts.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wild Encounters

Heard some blood-curdling screams the other night.  I am often awakened by bizarre noises in the woods nearby, and in my semi-conscious state I promise myself that I will remember exactly what they  sound like, so I can reproduce them for knowledgeable locals who can identify their source.  I never do remember the noises precisely, and so am left to imagine that we live in the vicinity of ghouls and catamounts.

I ran into the neighbor whose house is at the bottom of our field a couple of days after I heard the screams, and he said that he had heard them too.  We both agreed that they didn't sound like coyote communications.  Then he told me that a brown bear had climbed onto his porch recently and upset his can of birdseed.  And that a moose had wandered past his window.

I have been alternately cursing myself for missing these critters, and congratulating myself for living in a place where bears, moose, and the anonymous night shrieker--not to mention porcupines--amble so casually.  I've become blase about the does and fawns grazing on the lawn, or the turkey hens leading tiny poults single file down the driveway.  But a bear's presence still thrills me.  I've only seen one once, about four years ago, dismantling our bird feeder about four feet from the house. 

As for moose, I've never seen one in the wild, much less on our land.  But I'll never forget the one in the opening credits of Northern Exposure.  That show, to which I was addicted in the 1990s, made me dream of living in a small village in the frozen north, where people know each other by name and moose wander the streets.

And now I do.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sculpture That Spooks

Phyllis Kulmatiski  , who makes beautiful figurative sculptures inspired by Romanesque art, posted an  article by Michael Kimmelman in which he laments the near-oblivion into which traditional European pre-modern sculpture has fallen.

Baudelaire seems to have put his finger on what bothers us moderns about figurative sculpture when he called it “Carib art,” by which he meant art that is too close to its primitive, religious, animistic roots.  Somewhere inside our brains, we all still carry  the three-year-old who endowed dolls and teddy bears with souls and personalities, just as we still carry the paleolithic carver who believed that his round little "Venuses" had the power to ensure the fertility of bison, reindeer, and women.

Because three-dimensional figures touch us at a level we would rather not acknowledge, we turn away from them, and won't have them in the house.  Interestingly, we are more comfortable with sculptures in the garden--that middle ground between the wildness of Nature and the civilized space of the house--where mystery and imagination are still allowed to have some play.

Me, I am not spooked by figurative sculpture.  In Spain in the 1950s, religious sculptures were household objects as common as soup tureens.  Every room of the house had its appropriate statue.  A crucifix hung above my parents' bed;  a wooden carving of the Sacred Heart presided over the dining room;  a terracotta Immaculate Conception stood on my dresser.  At Christmas, our Nativity scene included, in addition to the Holy Family, tiny painted clay figures of kings, shepherds and peasants with their retinues of camels, sheep, cows, geese, chickens, and pigs.

Next door to our apartment building there was a statuary maker, and I could watch the progress of his work every day on my way to and from school.  On Sunday, in church, there were statues everywhere, and I used to imagine that at night, when the great doors were closed and the church was dark except for the lamp that burned perpetually in front of the Blessed Sacrament, Saint Joseph with the infant Jesus in his arms came down from his plinth and went to visit his wife on her altar, and Saint Francis and Saint Theresa walked around in their brown habits, talking quietly and breathing the incense-saturated air.

No wonder Luther banned sculptures from his church.

Not long after I was married, as my father lay dying, my mother took down the crucifix above their bed--the crucifix, she reminded me, under which I was conceived--and gave it to me, to hang over my marriage bed.  As crucifixes go, this one was pretty subdued.  Both the cross and the corpus were metal, and the look was stylized and vaguely Byzantine.

I thanked my parents and put the crucifix in my dresser drawer, under a stack of sweaters, where it lies to this day.  I never could bring myself to hang it over our bed.  I found it...spooky.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

C Is For Cat

...the true King of Beasts.

Montaigne said, "When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a
pastime to her more than she is to me?"

I have been catless for years, but I will not be catless forever.                                                        

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

B Is For Book

...preferably a long one.

Dona posted a Facebook link to an article by Alan Jacobs in The Chronicle of Higher Education (see below) about "long form" reading and the quality of deep attention that fewer and fewer people are able to bring to a text:
Some people—many people—most people—will not experience that internal necessity of being in books, in texts. But for [some]people...books are the natural and inevitable and permanent means of being absorbed in something other than the self.
If there is anything--legal, cheap, not harmful, and for which you don't need another person--better than being in a book, I'd like to hear about it.  I learned to read before first grade, but my earliest memory of being in a book, of being carried off by the current of another mind, dates from the summer when I was eight and reading Kipling's Jungle Book.  I sat enraptured in my grandparents' solarium, with the shades closed against the blazing midday sun, hoping that my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and the maids would sit down to eat lunch and not notice that I wasn't there. 

My childhood was a long series of interruptions from Heidi, Mary Poppins, The Wind in the Willows, Tom Sawyer, Uncle Tom's Cabin (all in Spanish translation, since I read them long before I learned English).  "Put down your book and take a walk/take a nap/write a letter/practice the violin/go to school..."  I would surface like a diver, blinking at the light.  After a minute or two getting oriented to the world of tables and chairs and well-intentioned adults, I would put down the book and do whatever was required, inwardly counting the minutes until I could take the next dive.

Things haven't changed much since then.  Falling into a book in the evening is still my preferred reward for a day well lived or simply endured.  And I like my books to be long ones, so that I can swim at leisure among the reefs and trenches of another mind.  The brief dips offered by magazines (including the updated New Yorker), not to mention the medium I'm using right now,  just aren't as satisfying.

Sometimes I wonder if my addiction to reading isn't equivalent to a TV addiction.  After all, not every book I read is a masterpiece,  and there are sometimes masterpieces on television.  Still, given the choice between a book and a TV program, I'll pick the book.  I suspect that a major reason may be that when I read I'm in control.  I decide when to speed up and when to slow down, when to stop and take a second look.  With a book, I'm the driver;  when I watch TV, I'm on a tour bus, and tours have never been my thing. 

Do you like your books short or long?  How do reading and watching TV compare for you?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I've always loved those Art Nouveau alphabets in which a single motif is
carried through and adapted to each letter.  For those days when words fail, I've begun an alphabet of my own.  Here is the first letter:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mouse On My Toe

Went to give lunch to a litter of Bisou's half siblings yesterday, while their owner took a well-deserved break.  On the kitchen counter were copious instructions, and also a note saying that Zen, the cat, had released a live field mouse in the house earlier that day.

Following instructions, I carried the four puppies one by one to their outdoor pen, cleaned their indoor pen, and made lunch.  Then I carried the puppies in, one at a time, to eat, starting with the single female pup who, like her half-sister who lives at my house, acted like she hadn't seen food in a week.

I was on the second or third puppy when I felt something warm and soft on my foot.  I looked down, and there was Zen's mouse, sitting on my bare toe, watching the puppy eat.  I bent down to get a closer look, but the mouse scurried under the fridge.  He made a few more sorties while I finished up, but kept his distance.

I'm going to feed the puppies again today.  Maybe I'll get lucky, and Zen's mouse will still be there.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

All Those Prayers...

During my years in Catholic school, from age six to seventeen, I spent a lot of time praying.  I'd say my morning prayers while I was putting on my uniform.  In school, at the beginning of each class, we would stand up and say a short prayer, like a Hail Mary.  Sometimes we would sing.  I especially liked "Come Holy Ghost," the English translation of the 9th century Gregorian chant, "Veni Creator Spiritus."  In times of stress, such as before an algebra test, I would sing it silently to myself as I waited for the test paper to be placed on my desk.  At the end of each class we would all stand up again and say another prayer.

Two prayers per class, six classes a day, five days a week makes 240 prayers a month.  And that was not all.  My high school had a chapel where daily Mass was said before first period.  Attendance was not required, but sometimes I would go.  On Fridays confessions were heard in the chapel.  You said your prayer of contrition--mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa--and then whatever prayers the priest assigned you as penance .  During lunch period--and this seems incredible now--my friends and I would often whip out our chapel veils and stop by the chapel for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament.

At home, before dinner, instead of a formal blessing we would just cross ourselves.  But sometimes in the evening my parents would  pray the Rosary, led by my father:  five Our Fathers, fifty Hail Marys, five Glorias, and the litany of the Virgin Mary.  My father recited the litany in Latin, and it used to feel like a reward for sitting through those endless Hail Marys:
...Mystical rose,
Tower of David,
Tower of ivory,
House of gold,
Ark of the covenant,
Gate of heaven,
Morning star...
During the long May evenings my parents and I would kneel before the statue of Mary that lived on the chest of drawers in their bedroom and say the special prayers of the "Month of Mary."

And in all seasons, before falling asleep, I would do an "examination of conscience" before saying a prayer to my Guardian Angel to which my  mother had added various petitions directed to God Himself, such as "let Daddy have plenty of good work," and "let me have a little brother or sister."  The latter was granted the year I turned sixteen.  Who said prayers don't work?

On Sundays we went to Mass and Communion.

After I married, and my father died, and the Church messed up badly on its birth control policies, I stopped all that--morning prayers, evening prayers, the Rosary, the Mass, the works.  Suddenly I had a lot of extra time on my hands.

Now that, a half century later, the vicissitudes of life have steered me on the path of Buddhist spirituality, I meditate in the morning, reciting a mantra that often feels as mechanical as the Rosary used to, and doing my best to tame my "monkey mind."  As I undertake various tasks during the day, I try to remember to center myself.  Before I go to sleep at night, I focus on my breath and do a little metta

It feels amazingly familiar and recognizable, like an old friend you haven't seen in years and who shows up wearing exotic clothes.  The habit and discipline of inwardness, instilled by my parents and by the nuns who succeeded each other like beads on the rosary of my school years, has come back into my life.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Women On Stage

Went with friends to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra some days ago, in its summer residence in nearby Saratoga. The guest conductor was Marin Alsop, on loan from the Baltimore Symphony. She is known not only for her talent but also as the first woman to conduct a major American orchestra. The soloist was the violin virtuosa, Sarah Chang, who played the Max Bruch Violin Concerto.

I'm not going to write about the artistry of these women, however, but about their outfits.

Ms. Alsop wore a gender-neutral cream jacket and black pants that could have fit Toscanini or JLo equally well.  And you can see her point.  First of all, if you are a conductor, you have to be able to move around a lot, not teeter off the podium in your high heels, and not risk wardrobe malfunctions.  If, as happened to Ms. Alsop in Baltimore, your musicians rose in rebellion when your appointment was first announced (they now adore her, and with good reason), you might want to play it safe and minimize your female attributes.  On the other hand, if, like Ms. Alsop, you are open about being gay, that outfit might feel just right to you.

Sarah Chang strode on stage in a sensational clinging, blood-red dress that emphasized her resemblance to the violin she carried.  She played with furious drama, kicking her flounces with her feet like a flamenco dancer and doing amazing back bends.  She raised her bow arm towards the sky.  She flung her yard-long hair about.  When, during the rests, she would break off the hairs that had come loose from her bow, I worried that she might accidentally break off some of her own by mistake.  Also during the rests, she kept hiking up one of her straps, causing 99% of the audience to worry that a high-culture wardrobe malfunction was in the offing.  Fortunately, she had total technical mastery of her outfit as well as her instrument.

Why even write about these women's outfits and physical styles?  In recent years many young classical musicians of both sexes have abandoned the standard uniform of tails or dark dress in favor of more liberated--and often Liberace-like--clothing.  As far as extravagant physical mannerisms, there is honorable precedent for them.  In the 19th century, Liszt looked like a demon at the keyboard, whereas violinists like Paganini and Sarasate were said to be demons.  The utterly discreet and very short Casals groaned audibly while playing like an angel.  And Itzak Perlman, who has to play sitting down because of childhood polio, puts more drama into his facial expressions than the entire cast of a silent movie.

I take it as a sign of progress that Sarah Chang amazes audiences with her dresses and gyrations, and that Marin Alsop feels free to wear what feels comfortable to her.  It made me happy to see the maestra and the virtuosa, at the extreme opposite poles of female attire,  on stage with that Amazon River of an orchestra 
behind them, making really good music.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Years ago, in a Hecht's department store in a Maryland mall, I came across a silver ring with a carnelian cabochon that I couldn't resist.  I bought it and wore it all the

carnelian gemstone image
time, and subsequently lost it.  (I could fill Ali Baba's cave with jewelry
I've lost through the years.)

But after that first encounter, I was gripped by carnelian fever.  Luckily, carnelian is a semi-precious stone, so I could indulge my passion without spending a fortune.  I bought a pair of carnelian earrings.   For a few pennies, I got a couple of loose carnelians that I sometimes carry around in my hands.  One is a dark brownish red, the other a pale orange.  Not only are they beautiful, but they make a satisfying "clack" when I strike them together.

I also own a silver pentacle pendant with a dark red carnelian at its center.  Having a pentacle does not, unfortunately, make me a witch.  I wear it in the same spirit that I wear my First Communion medal with the Virgin Mary on it, as an acknowledgement of the Divine Feminine.  (When I wear the pentacle, people think it is a star of David.)

Speaking of witches and weirdness, I found a number of websites that describe the many mystical properties of carnelian.  In fact, if you were to add up all the things that all the websites say carnelian will do for you, they would cover the universe of mystical properties.  But all the sites agree on this:  that carnelian gives energy and spurs creativity.  If I were so inclined, I might conclude that the Divine Feminine Herself took me by the hand and led me to that Maryland mall, to the jewelry department at Hecht's, and to that particular carnelian ring.  Clearly She knew what I was most desperate for.

Things get really spooky when I look at my dogs.  Take a look at Wolfie's eyes:  two carnelian cabochons.  As for Bisou, whom the Cavalier people refer to as a "ruby,"  except for her nose she is carnelian from head to toe.

Do these two living carnelians give me energy, spur my creativity?  Often they sap my energy.  But they do make me awfully happy, and I cannot ask for more than that.

(Photo by Bisou's breeder and dog boarder extraordinaire who can be found here)

Monday, August 1, 2011

On The Lake Of Guinea Pigs

It's August, 1955, so despite their formal attire these people cannot possibly be survivors of the Titanic.  You can tell by the look on their faces that they're not worried about survival on their crowded life boat.

Actually, it isn't a life boat, but a canoe, with an Indian pilot taking us out on Cuicocha, the lake of guinea pigs, in the Ecuadorian Andes.  The child in the baseball cap, center back, is the pilot's son.  He is staring into Cuicocha's unfathomable depths.  In front of him are an Ecuadorian couple.  He is an intellectual and a poet, the first to translate Walt Whitman's Leaves Of Grass into Spanish.  She is the mother of his sons.

The woman sitting next to the poet is a lyric soprano, born in Austria, who in the nick of time fled the Reich to South America.  She is also, I find out much later, the first divorced woman my mother has ever met.  One day in Quito she showed up with two puppies, male and female, as a gift for me.  Therefore, I adore her.

Across from the lyric soprano is the violist of the string quartet (of which my father is first violin) that the Ecuadorian Ministry of Culture has imported from Barcelona.  He is engaged to a woman in Spain, to whom he writes every day.  She cannot honorably cross the Atlantic to meet him as a single woman, so they will marry by proxy (my parents will sit up drinking brandy with him on his wedding night), and many months later she will arrive by boat, wearing the latest European fashions.

The cellist of the quartet, in sunglasses and pipe, sits next to the violist.  According to my father, he is a splendid musician who doesn't practice enough.  He is a ladies' man, and answers the phone with an affected "'Alloooo..."  I am contemptuous of him.

Across from him is my mother, in her glory.  She is thirty-seven, and she is having an adventure in an exotic land.  In fact, she is planning to send this photo, which my father is taking, to her parents on their farm in Catalonia.  "You can't imagine how beautiful this is!" she writes on the back.

The fourth member of the quartet, the second violin, is not on the boat, but back in Quito.  He is handsome and aristocratic, and has an ocelot kitten that I covet.  In retrospect, I think his absence on this and other trips must have had something to do with a woman.

And that's the ten-year-old me, surrounded by adults, as usual.  I am emphatically withdrawing my gaze from the natural wonders around me.  I am sick of natural wonders, sick of Indians who smell because they are so poor, sick of endless talk about music and art.  I am looking into the bag in which I have secreted a tiny doll for whom I have improvised a miniature apartment where I can visit her.

Cuicocha is a quechua word composed of cocha (meaning lake) and cui (guinea pig).  Guinea pigs are everywhere in the Andes, especially in people's kitchens, and especially in their cooking pots.  Like rabbits, they provide high-protein meat, and like rabbits, they reproduce like mad.  But my mother, brought up on her mother's hand-raised rabbits, find cuis too much like rats, of which she is deathly afraid.  So that is one Ecuadorian delicacy we do not taste.

Cuicocha is a lake in the crater of an extinct volcano.  Its bottom has never been found.  None of the people in the canoe know how to swim.