Monday, March 2, 2009

Exercise 2: The Dog That Laid Eggs

Everything was pretty routine around here until the dog started laying eggs.
I know what you’re going to say: “That’s impossible!” Yeah. That’s what I thought, too. After all, I’d had Sadie spayed when she was six months old in order to avoid just such accidents.
Well, not this sort of accident. You can’t blame me for not imagining she’d be able to lay eggs, but you’d think that when the vet spayed her, she would have noticed something different about Sadie’s insides. Apparently not.
It wasn’t quite spring when I found the first egg on the couch. I didn’t exactly find it. I sat on it. It was mid-afternoon, and I was going to watch a movie and work on a scarf I was knitting for my son’s girl friend. I sat down, and felt this strange, large lump back at the edge of my butt. I reached down to pick it up, and came up with the egg.
It was a little larger than a chicken egg, and the shell was a pale brown with dark brown mottling. Great camouflage colors, which is why I didn’t see it before I sat down.
I held it up, balanced on the tips of my fingers, and asked the unavoidable question: What?
What is this egg doing here and where did it come from? I looked at Sadie, our large chocolate Labrador retriever. She was sleeping peacefully on the other end of the couch, her head propped up on a pillow. I could believe that she was the one who had put the egg on the couch, but I didn’t know where she got it.
I took the egg to the kitchen and rinsed it off, and put it into the refrigerator. That night when my husband came home I showed it to him. We agreed that it was a large and handsome egg, but we couldn’t figure out what kind of egg it was, or where Sadie might have cadged it so she could bring it home and bury it in the couch. We both looked at her, each of us with many unanswered questions inside. She perked up when we made eye contact, and wagged her tail, waiting expectantly for whatever good thing we were going to do for her. Treat? Dinner? Petting? She was up for the full array of evening family bonding.
We were more than a little worried, of course. If Sadie was stealing eggs somewhere, no matter that she brought them home without a scratch, she was raiding someone’s nest, and if the fowl laying the eggs was some domestic creature, property of one of our neighbors, they would be well within their rights to shoot Sadie. That was the scary part.
Like most dog owners we couldn’t believe our sweet Sadie was raiding someone’s, well, not chicken, but some kind of creature coop. Perhaps it was some wild nest she’d found. Or perhaps the egg had fallen from a tree, and Sadie had found it on the forest floor.
There was nothing to do at that point but say, “Huh,” and put the egg in the refrigerator.
The next morning, out of curiosity, I decided to see what the egg tasted like. I broke it open into a bowl. There was nothing unusual about it. It had a deep goldenrod-colored yoke that stood up high. So, freshly laid, I thought, where ever she found it, whatever species it came from.
I heated a little oil in a pan and slipped the egg in to fry. As I said, it was larger than a chicken egg, so it made a large fried egg. Beautiful, too, with that big firm, fresh yoke.
When I slipped it onto the plate, I had another frightening thought. What if this is a bald eagle egg? Isn’t it illegal to harm bald eagles and their eggs? What do eagle eggs look like?
A quick trip to my computer relieved my worries on that score. The eggs of the North American bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus, “sea eagle” “white headed”) are six to eight centimeters long, and the shell is white.
I sat down to my fried egg with a sense of relief, and took a tentative taste of the white.
Yuck. The egg tasted, well, doggy. That was the word that came to mind. You know the smell of a wet dog? That’s what that egg tasted like. Ech. I put it into Sadie’s bowl.
She sniffed it, and then looked at me with large sad eyes. Accusing eyes. If she could have spoken, she would have said, “How could you?” And she walked away without touching the egg, and didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with me for the rest of the day.
That evening I found the second egg on the couch.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Day 1, Exercise 1

She always looked to the south.
To the southwest rose the Santa Lucia Mountains and to the Southeast the Salinas Valley disappeared in the bright haze of a Central California afternoon.
She knew that beyond that valley, farther to the south, lay Los Angeles, where life was happening. She listened to that life on the radio every night, cuddled up in bed with her transistor radio next to her ear, listening to KRLA, the rock station that only came in at night. She listened to Dave Hull, the “scuzzy old Hullabalooer,” and she had made “scuzzy” a part of her daily lexicon in imitation of this rock God, this man who had spoken – in person – to the Beatles. She could only imagine what life was like down where it was all happening. She listened to the ads: Be there or be square. She despaired of ever being there, or of ever being anything but square.
Those were the nights.
The weekdays began by her being roused early by her mother, who was always ill-tempered. Cereal and steady nagging were followed by a long stuffy ride on the school bus, breathing toxic fumes and dreaming of being somewhere else.
One morning, while passing through a tree-covered section of road that ran alongside a creek, the bus slowed to a stop. All the riders looked out to see why they were stopping. There was a coyote in the road. It moved aside as they began to move again, apparently not that happy to see the bus, but not that frightened.
It was something to talk about when she got to school. A coyote! In our civilized modern world!
She longed to live in a more modern, more civilized world. Instead she walked from class to class in the same high school buildings where her father and her grandfather had walked before her.
On the weekends she watched the Saturday morning cartoons, and then went out to ride her horse.
The horse, Jingles, was her ride to freedom. She lured the little grey gelding with oats, brushed him and curried him, and cleaned his hooves to make sure there were no stones to hurt him. Often she sang to him, or she wound up the old Victrola that was in the barn, and played the old records stored on its shelves. Her favorites were the song “Oh by jingo!” and a humor record by “Two Black Crows,” who were supposed to be two black men telling pretty dumb jokes: “My doctor says my veins are too close together.” “What?” “Yeah, he says I have very close veins.” It was a vestige of the racism whose time was beginning to run out even as she brushed Jingles' coat smooth and glossy.
She threw the saddle blanket on Jingles, smoothed it out, and then hefted the saddle up onto his back. She looped the latigo leather strap through the cinch ring, tightening the cinch while Jingles puffed up with air and held his breath, trying to keep the cinch from being more tight than he liked. Sometimes she would knee him in the side to get him to exhale. Her father had taught her that trick.
Finally, she loosened Jingles’ halter and slipped it off his nose, leaving it looped around his neck, and held the bridle up to his head, pressing the bit against his teeth, until he opened them and the bit slipped into his mouth, into the space between his front teeth and his back teeth, and she slipped the straps of the bridle over his ears. One more buckle on the throat strap of the bridle, and they were ready to go.
Sometimes she rode him in the pasture, which was about ten acres of hill with grass and brush, and trails that led up and down. At the top of the hill was a stand of pines, and she loved to ride up there and stare out to the head of the valley to the north. Then she would turn her gaze to the south, off where the valley widened and opened up and stretched away, mile after mile of prime agricultural land with lettuce and strawberries and sugar beets and other field crops, off to Fremont Peak and the Santa Lucias and that huge gap where the Salinas Valley led away without an end, to the south, to Los Angeles, to life. She knew her life would be there. She couldn’t wait.