The kissing wolves

How quickly a kiss can turn…

into something not so sweet.


There was surprisingly little outward agression within the packs, but like any happy family, each member knows their place. Mostly they seemed to communicate with their bodies; their posture, their eyes, the subtle showing of teeth.

Sort of like any of us before coffee in the morning.

I’ve read that this *kissing* among wolves is a left-over submissive behavior, a relic of their puppy days begging to be fed. A behavior that we witness in our couch-potato dogs, still. These two were siblings, if I remember correctly, and both seemed to relish the mouth to mouth contact.

4, 5

I wish that I could report better than minor progress at #4 and 5 on this list, but the fact is that I’m just manipulating my own silly rules.

So while I don’t recall buying any new books lately, there were a couple Christmas gifts.

And I’ve been making liberal use of the local library.

Gone are the days when I could immerse myself in one book at a time. I’m not sure why, but I can’t seem to find the time to concentrate fully enough. So I’ve been reading light or hopscotching from book to book, mixing up plots and characters. Adds to the fun, maybe.

In the last couple days I finished:

Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life by Daniel Gottlieb
Gift of the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Living on the Edge of the World: NJ Writers Take on the Garden State

I’m partway through these:

Twelve Moons of the Year by Hal Borland
A Book of Days by Hal Borland
Seasons by Hal Borland
The Gate House by Nelson DeMille
Stiff by Mary Roach
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Duma Key by Stephen King
Plant Seed, Pull Weed: Nurturing the Garden of Your Life by Geri Larkin
Doodles and Daydreams: Your Passport for Becoming an Escape Artist by Bill Zimmerman – a Christmas gift to myself!
The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks – another Christmas gift to me!
The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser – I’ve been reading this one since early June, I think, trying to make the fun last.

I won’t mention the books that remain untouched on the *to be read* pile. But it is getting smaller – honest!

So… what have you read lately that’s any good? Want to add to one of my lists?


Hummingbird plants

With each new seed catalog in the mailbox my dreams get grander and less likely to ever happen.

I love pouring over the new varieties and planning where each might fit in my garden, but actually choosing anything new over my old favorites seems an impossibility. Mostly I plant for butterflies and hummingbirds and think everyone needs to lure them into our gardens for the simple pleasure and laughter they can bring.

Hummingbirds love bell-shaped flowers and will zoom and hover from one to the next to the delight of anyone who stops long enough to notice.

My short list of easy-to grow plants for hummers includes:

Agastache – not bell-shaped, but hummers seek it out together with all manner of bees and insects.

Bee-balm – again not bell-shaped, but it smells great and a red variety has rooted itself along the border of my little pond and is a hummer magnet.

Crocosmia – only half-hardy for me, but a stunner.

Salvia – A personal favorite of mine that the hummers also seem to love in any color.

I can’t remember the name of the plant in this photo – maybe scarlet cypress vine? For years my MIL started the seeds for me and I grew it along the fence that surrounds our pond. Now it grows from any little nook and cranny. This summer it sprouted from between a couple pavers in the driveway and twined its way up the gutters of the house! Beautiful, but it blooms way too late for the hummers to enjoy before they migrate. Anyone else have that issue with this plant?

Any other good hummingbird plants you’ve had success with?

A chorus

It began low and melodious, a sorrowful song carried on the wind from somewhere out of sight. Whatever signal started it was lost to me, though I’d been hoping I’d be lucky enough to hear a sing-along among the wolves while I was there visiting.

I first remember hearing a raven cronking overhead and laughing in delight at the novelty of that sound as I stood among a group of wolves. There are places where that occurs naturally, but NJ isn’t one of those places. Quickly the sorrowful sound of one wolf became a haunting and surreal song, something like being inside a fire horn or a train whistle, as the urge to join the chorus traveled from one wolf to the next. The sound surrounded me and gave me goosebumps!

This particular wolf, Black Star was his name, I think, was the most wolfish-looking of them all – always very wild and fierce – except when he began to howl, then he looked comical as he contorted his mouth to suit his trademark song. His voice was the loudest and most dissonant… his song rising and falling as part of the symphony.

So this is Christmas

Wow. I’m pooped.

Last year I remember being exhausted with having two days worth of relatives here at home…

This year it was the running from one house to the next that has me beat…

It was a fun day that started with our tradition (lately) of breakfast with my brothers. We started this a couple years ago so that we could spend some time together and still be able to meet other family obligations (in-laws) without being away from home for the whole day. It works pretty well, as we rotate houses each year and no one gets stuck with the chore of fixing breakfast year after year. This year it was TheReluctantChickenFarmer’s turn (my brother Kevin) and as is typical of most everything in our family, we got started about two hours behind schedule.

First we had to all play with the kid’s new toys from Santa… here’s Kev boxing with his daughter’s new Wii game. What fun!

Then, the little boys (my 48 and 46 year old brothers!) had to play with the train set under the tree…


Kevin borrowed our upside-down tree this year to see how they liked it – my madness is spreading!

I finally got the kids to settle down and pose for a pic with me. This is Kev’s daughter Elyse on the left and Bri’s daughter Julia on the right. (Freckles run rampant in our family.)

Eventually, we sat down to breakfast around 1 o’clock. There were crepes and pancakes and spiked eggnog and lots of good stories and laughter.

All that eggnog made the girls really, really silly…


We were late for dinner with the in-laws by about 2 hours… just in time for dessert, in other words. Sometimes I worry that everyone knows I do that on purpose.

The quiet before

I love the stillness that finally comes on Christmas Eve and I’m up way past midnight enjoying the quiet of my living room lit only by the tree and the soft sounds the bunnies make in the dark as they nibble hay in the next room.

I had to work today for the first time in many years and wasn’t very happy about it, really. Christmas Eve feels to me like the most solemn of days, yet I think being at work today let me see how the people I work with and the agency I work for can really shine in the lives of people in need. All week there’s been bundles of donated clothes and toys hauled out to god-knows-where and the quiet phone calls we social workers sometimes make to appeal directlty to charities on behalf of the families we work with so there’ll be toys or breakfast or heat on Christmas morning.

I was off early enough to enjoy some last-minute shopping, final touches to the tree – these sweet, glittery fabric butterflies that are wired to the branches – and the chance to visit with a couple friends and neighbors in the midst of their own Christmas Eve craziness.

The quiet now is complete until morning when another sort of craziness starts. I anticipate that, not nearly as much as I did when I was a child, but I still do. The stillness now is wonderful, though. I hope you find a moment of it yourself.

The larger darkness of night

I want to be enchanted by the season, by its dreams and starry ideas, by the quiet solitude of snowfall.

The things that fill the larger darkness of night, the things we so deliberately weave into our days in this season of diminished light…

What are your rituals, like the coming together with family, that let you treasure this season? Not the glitter, not the wrapping paper, but the true meaning beneath the things we do for the sake of vanity?

Maybe it’s the occasion to extend a hand to someone who’s been without or…


I’m so lost in the glitter and the busyness that I hardly have time to hope for more.

Oh! Heather from Pa. sent me something I’m to pass along to other members of the flock. Probably I’ll send it to Susan first, for her to send on to the flocker of her choice. So be looking for something. Thanks, Heather!

One sweet shot

The Lakota Wolf Preserve offers twice daily “wolf watches” for groups to observe the four packs that reside there. I avoided that whole song and dance routine and instead had a private photography session, where for a fee, you get to go inside the fenced-in walkways that surround each enclosure to take photos. There are chest height portals in the fencing that can be opened to allow photos unobstructed by the fencing.


I really had no idea what to expect from the whole experience and was a bit intimidated by the thought of passing myself off as a *serious* photographer.


So long as you’re willing to pay for that distinction, well… I guess someone’s obligated to believe it at least.

So… I went with it and brought extra flash cards and extra batteries and every lens I own. Turns out I didn’t need any of it and used only my regular 28-200 mm lens. Most often the wolves were too close and I had to mind the sleeves of my coat pushed up against those openings in the fence. The wolves are acclimated to people to a degree and are happy to mug for dog biscuits tossed over the fencing for the benefit of paying photographers. They’re also not beyond nudging the wayward elbows of said photographers.


I took so many pics in that two hours, hunched in an uncomfortable position in the freezing cold, that I had cramps in my back and right arm and fingers. From a photography standpoint, I would have preferred some variation in the height of the fence portals, mainly some lower ones because I like to shoot up at animals, for whatever reason, rather than shooting down. I don’t guess that’s really practical considering that the wolves didn’t hesitate to reach up to the openings and a person might lose a pantleg were they any lower.

The snowy background was a dream, but again I think a visit in fall might be nice for a better variety of shots. The guide did his best to keep each pack active and close enough for nice shots, but I found my attention, as is typical, wandering. Most often it was to that pack in the next enclosure that wasn’t performing for us and instead doing what wolves in captivity do, I guess. Laying about napping, chasing one another in play, arguing over who gets to sit on the highest rock.

I had to remind myself a number of times to stop just watching and take pics, darn it! It was so neat to see interactions that look so everyday and familiar to me as a dog owner and frequenter of dog parks.

Any idea that wolves are just like dogs, but in thicker coats, was dispelled pretty quickly. There’s something very *other* about them, even these captive ones, none of whom have probably ever lived in the wild. Physically, there’s the obvious differences… the thin long snout, the heavily furred ears, the superlong front legs, their loping gait and funny posture. Mostly though, it’s something in their eyes, I think, should the weight of their gaze ever fall on you. It feels nothing like that sweet puppy curled beside you on the couch.

The paparazzi bore me

Wolves yawn and get sleepy at midday, did you know that?

And they curl up on the snow with their noses tucked into their tails just like their domestic cousins do on your couch.

Can you imagine that?

Ever wonder what it feels like to hear a couple dozen of them sing an impromptu concert in response to a raven cronking overhead?

Really, really cool and goose-bump inspiring, actually.

I got to spend a couple hours this afternoon at the Lakota Wolf Preserve taking pics and freezing my butt off in the snow.

Oh! You know those little hand-warmer packets they sell? They’re worth it and feel really really good inside your shoes.


More tomorrow.

Lukamoose and favorite Xmas songs

Yes, he’s a ham for the camera!

Can you imagine the torture I’d inflict on a child?

He’s not knocked down the tree or lifted his leg on it. Yet. Stealing ornaments is another matter altogether.


I’m playing along with a holiday meme I saw over at Liza’s and elsewhere to list 10 favorite Christmas songs. My favorites are mostly traditional carols…

1. O Holy Night – this is my absolute favorite carol, I think.

2. Please Come Home for Christmas by the Eagles

3. Carol of the Bells

4. Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy by David Bowie and Bing Crosby

5. Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg – I won’t admit to liking anything else by him, but this one makes me cry every single time I hear it.

6. Earth Abides by Philip Aaberg – a nicely quiet piano piece

7. Fairytale of NY by The Pogues – not one you’d ever hear on the radio, but an old favorite I was reminded of by reading other responses to this meme. Be warned… The Pogues are something of an acquired taste!

8. Silent Night – this one is all about the setting… I love hearing it on Christmas Eve, at midnight, holding a small candle in front of me at church with hot wax dripping onto my fingers.

9. Wexford Carol

10. Peace by Norah Jones

Why not share a few of your favorites?