Thursday, December 3, 2009

Octopus Hugs

I heard a really lovely story not too long ago. This is second, maybe even third hand (how fitting!), so I may not have all the details quite right. If not, I apologize in advance.

What happened is this:
Large Red Octopus ArtTile from Choose2BHappy 

At any one time, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has two Giant red octopus on display. Each in their own, neighboring tanks. These octopus live about five years. They are one of the largest octopus species known: the ones in the Monterey Bay grow to have an arm span of 15 feet, which is plenty big enough, but the biggest specimen ever measured was more than twice that big, with an arm span over 32 feet wide.

Giant octopus are highly intelligent animals. In captivity they often form attachments to the aquarists who feed and care for them. The octopus can distinguish and recognize individual aquarists within two seconds of touching their skin with the sensitive tip of a tentacle.

A couple of months ago, it was time for one of the octopus, a large female, to be released back into the Bay.

She’d grown close to a particular aquarist (we’ll call her Sam), who was chosen to be the person to release her. Sam took the octopus out on the Bay and dove down into the water with her. At the appropriate depth, she opened the container and the octopus swam free.

The animal clearly understood what was happening to her. She “hung around” in the water near Sam for a few minutes.

As if to say goodbye.

Then she swam away and disappeared.

Sam went on about her business, doing whatever it is the aquarists do out there, examining, and measuring, counting and collecting. I’d guess for half an hour or so, maybe longer. And was probably a little sad. Or at least had mixed feelings: sad to see the octopus go, and glad that she’d been released to live out the remainder of her life in the wild.

When she was done with whatever her tasks were for that dive, Sam swam back in the direction of the boat and prepared to ascend.

And suddenly the octopus appeared again, swimming toward her.

This creature, who she’d tended for several years, and who she’d released to swim free in the vast depths of the Monterey Bay, came back.

The octopus swam right up to Sam, gently wound one long tentacle up and around her arm and, very gently, squeezed.

Once, twice, three times.

Then she slowly withdrew her tentacle, looked Sam in the eye one last time, and swam away.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Viking and I, Part I.

I love living out here, but this house has some interesting quirks of its own. Like not really having a front door (I use the one by the garage).  Small bedrooms, but a giant kitchen. And the world’s biggest laundry room. As soon as I can figure out how to move the washer & dryer, I’m turning that into a dining room. Until then, I mostly keep the appliances covered and use the rest of the room as my gallery/studio. It gets good light—from both sides—but isn’t insulated, and is really c-c-c-cold in the winter.

I digress. Back to the giant kitchen. And the giant Viking stove.

The one that hasn’t worked well since I moved in, and has been getting worse. Those yummy Blondies, which should take about 25 minutes to bake, come out half raw inside after an hour and a half. (They’re actually really good that way, but still.)

For the past couple of months, I’ve been mostly ‘cooking’ in an old toaster oven a friend of mine was going to throw out. It doesn’t heat up the whole kitchen, which was nice during the summer, and actually works great for a lot of things. Not for baking, though. Which has been good for my waistline, but…

So, with the weather turning, and the holidays rapidly approaching, I finally got somebody out here to take a look.

Took me almost two years before it got so bad that I had to do something about it.

Took almost a week between me calling, and them actually showing up.

Took him almost fifteen minutes before he was packing up and writing up an invoice.

This is where my insecurities come in. Now, mind you, I really did wait until I was ABSOLUTELY sure that there was something wrong with the oven (and the burners weren’t all that reliable either) before I called. That it wasn’t me. That I hadn’t, every single time, forgotten an ingredient, or set the timer wrong, or forgotten how long it takes to roast a chicken. Or bake a batch of Blondies.

So I only had to watch him, stunned, for a minute or two before I got up the courage to ask “You’re already done?!”

(Internally, the dialogue went something like this: He’s been here five minutes! I can’t believe I’m going to have to pay him $65 to give me one of those condescending looks and say “Lady, “ (I hate being called “Lady” that way) “There’s nothing wrong with this oven…”)

He did none of those things.

He told me, in slightly more detail than required, exactly what was wrong with my oven and the range above, which parts he was going to order, how he was going to replace them, and the adjustments he’d make once the new parts were in to make sure that the temperature stayed even, that the burners didn’t sputter, and that never, ever, ever again would the flame go out leaving the gas flowing and me worried that the dog and I would asphyxiate in the middle of the night and that weeks later the neighbors would start complaining about the smell and send the fire department in to find our dead rotting bodies… that is, if the house hadn’t blown up first.

I almost kissed him.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Rain in Liverpool Falls Mainly

About those boots. The ones I hadn’t worn in years. The ones I bought in Liverpool.

I hadn’t been there very long—it must have been the first or second weekend. I’d already been through not three, not four, but TEN bomb scares.  Was trapped in the tunnel—UNDER the Mersey River—for hours and hours each time. Had my car searched each time. Had already changed hotels—to one on THIS side of the Mersey. Which is where she picked me up that day.

So it must have been the second weekend.


It’d been a rough two weeks. I was seriously considering calling New York and asking for hazard pay. I was thrilled when one of my new colleagues suggested going riding.

And really disappointed when I woke up Saturday morning and it was raining. The phone rang. I assumed she was calling to cancel—and you know what they say about assumptions. She laughed it off.  ‘If we cancelled our plans every time it rains here, we’d never do anything. I’ll pick you up in an hour. I’ll bring a spare jacket.’

Fair enough. Besides, she assured me, it was ‘just spitting.’

I found this recent image when I googled “Liverpool rain.” Just to give you an idea: 

(It was a long couple of months. Really nice people, though.)

The British have an incredible number of terms to describe each incremental increase in precipitation. Isn’t it the Japanese who have seventeen words for ‘yes’ and most of them mean ‘no?’ ‘Spitting’ turned out to be what, in California, we call RAIN. That steady, drenching drizzle that doesn’t look like much when you’re standing in a doorway, deciding that you can dash to the car without bothering with an umbrella…until you’re in the car a few minutes later cold, wet, and realize that your clothes are soaked all the way through.

An hour later I was the slightly resentful new owner of a helmet (no rain cover, which is basically just a shower cap, anyway. They assured me I wouldn’t need one—by then it was ‘barely a drizzle’), a pair of slightly water-resistant breeches in some incredibly unnatural polyester blend, and that now-infamous pair of knee-high rubber riding boots.

And her big brother’s borrowed barn jacket.

Just an attractive picture all the way ‘round.

And a wet, windy hour after that, I was flying—right over the head of my horse, ALL BY MYSELF over a three-bar jump.

Apparently, the horse thought I looked lonely. Or that, having seen me go over, the jump was safe, after all. So then he jumped too—damn near landing on top of me.

Afterwards, we put it all together. We’d been over the same jump, with a lower bar, a couple of times already. The rain had tapered off a bit, but the wind had picked up to compensate. As the horse and I were approaching the just-raised bar, one of those ubiquitous white plastic grocery bags went whizzing by outside the ring and >SMACKED< into a nearby post.

My horse startled, planted his feet, and dropped his head. I slid forward on my wet saddle and sailed right over the top of his head, (right between his ears), somersaulted over the jump (clearing it with plenty of room, thank you), and crash landed on the the other side. This surprised the horse, who threw his head back up and, in an effort to catch up (and quite impressively, I might add) bounced over the jump from all almost-complete stop. He landed with two hooves—that’s almost 1,000 pounds of horseflesh in two round, razor-sharp, iron-shod packages—on either side of my head.

This stuff happens. A more experienced rider (or maybe just a drier one) would have kept her seat. I just lay there for a second, stunned, desperately trying to catch my breath and staring up at a great, brown expanse of heaving horsehide above my head.

(It was actually kinda nice to have something blocking the rain for a minute.)

I was fine. Muddy, sore, and mortified, but fine. It did NOT help that my colleague—who has since become a dear friend—still looked like Grace Kelly, despite the rain and the gear, perched blonde and graceful on her mount on the other side of the ring. I had now added mud—a great MUCHNESS of mud—to my overall ensemble. (Plus some impressive, Technicolor bruises which wouldn’t be visible until later in the bath. And for weeks to come...)

As soon as she saw that I was all right, she started laughing her head off.

I caught my breath, caught the horse, and got back on. As you do.

And went over the jump a couple of times—successfully—just because.

An hour after that, I was curled into the tiny hotel tub, tired, and SORE, but happy. And looking forward to going again.

I mean, having invested in all that gear, I kind of had to, right?

I  got to wear the boots a few more times after that in Liverpool, then off and on after I moved to London.

And hardly at all since.

But now they’re out again. They’re ready.

Maybe even lucky.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Riding Boots2