Being There

When we moved into the house my parents built in 1958, it looked much as it does today. There were no trees, of course.  No roses had been planted and no basket of geraniums hung from the lamp post, but the shutters, the color of the siding and the roof shingles were nearly identical. Even the fire hydrant was there, blooming brightly red in the front yard, a reassuring token of suburban security. 

The hydrant was to become a focal point of our life, but if you’re imagining on-going struggles with neighborhood dogs or conflicts with the city over improperly installed water lines, you’d be wrong. The reality was quite different.  Placed conveniently across the lawn from our kitchen and dining room windows, the hydrant  became a stage for pure entertainment, as well as the source of a surprise or two.

From the beginning, there was the strange obsession of a beagle named Happy. Extraordinarily handsome but slightly dim, Happy lived across the street. Despite his breed’s reputation for liking to wander, he was a homebody. In fine weather, he’d lie under the hydrangeas or on the driveway. In rain or cold, he’d laze about in the garage, sleeping on his rug or watching passers-by through the open door.

So sedentary was he that we wondered if he compensated by running down rabbits in his dreams. Certainly the fat, plentiful cottontails bounding through his yard never roused him to the chase. Still, a bit of the old hunting impulse seemed embedded in his heart, and when Happy decided to hunt, it was a sight to behold.

There were no preliminaries, no stretching or sniffing of the air to suggest he was considering his next move. He’d simply lift his head, jump to his feet and launch  himself from his napping spot, baying with houndish enthusiasm as he sped off.

Flying across the street toward our yard, ears streamed back and tail held high, he’d pull up next to the hydrant and then, in a perfect imitation of a true gun dog, go on point. One forepaw up, muzzle extended, back feet planted and perfectly balanced, his form would have made any breeder proud. Unfortunately, the hydrant wasn’t going to run or fly, and no one was going to shoot it. It just sat there, and so did Happy, fixated on his red metal prey.

The first time we witnessed this tableau vivant, we didn’t know what to think. “Hey!” my dad yelled. “Come look at this crazy dog.”  Gathering on the front steps, staring at the immobilized hound, we pondered. Did he think the thing was alive? How long would he hold his pose? Did his owner know he was out in the neighborhood, flushing hydrants?

In fact, his owner did know. After about five minutes he strolled across the street, waved, picked up his pooch like a sack of potatoes and headed home. Later he told us Happy always had to be reclaimed. Once he’d “caught” his hydrant, he wouldn’t leave.

At first, I thought the owner was exaggerating, but in a decade or more of watching that dog, we never saw him tire or give up. Eventually, someone – a dad driving home from work, kids walking to school, a neighbor raking leaves – would take pity and carry him home. Then all would be well, until he took another notion to hunt and headed back to his hydrant.

Some neighbors called him stupid. Others admired his tenacity. My dad suggested he just needed a little training to help shape his impulses. Whatever the truth, when our canine equivalent of the one-trick pony decided it was time to perform, he always had a willing audience.

In time, the story of the hydrant-hunting dog took on mythological proportions. Told and re-told well beyond the confines of the neighborhood, it sometimes seemed to astonish even the story-teller. The last time I heard the story told was in Missouri, as a friend regaled a fresh audience with the tale. Sensing their incredulity, he grinned and reached for a beer. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess when it came to Happy, you just had to be there.”

Over the years, just “being there” provided us with a wealth of stories related to that hydrant, stories we told with as much disbelief, astonishment and delight as the tale of dear, dim Happy.

Lolling at the dinnertable one soft summer evening, we noticed a rabbit plucking unmown grass from the hydrant’s edge. Hopping back to the middle of the yard, she suddenly disappeared as though vaporized. A visiting school chum figured it out first. “Babies!” she said, and that’s exactly what it was – a rabbit’s nest in the middle of the yard, unseen though in plain sight, undiscovered through all the mowing, step-sitting and car washing of an entire summer.

One late October afternoon, her hands deep in dishwater and her unfocused, kitchen-weary gaze sorting through the shadows, Mom’s attention was caught by a flash of movement near our small stand of birch. It was a squirrel, apparently running in circles for the pure joy of it. Overcome by his own exuberance, he ran head-first into the hydrant and knocked himself out. Unable to keep from laughing at the absurdity of it all but certain he was dead, Mom dried her hands and headed toward the hydrant to claim the carcass. To her astonishment, there would be no carcass to claim.  Before she reached him the squirrel rolled over, gave her an embarassed glance and then staggered back toward the birches, dragging his tail beind him.

There was more, of course: the cat that caught the butterfly resting on the hydrant, the lizard that warmed himself every autumn afternoon, the cardinal fighting the huge, red interloper into his territory. It was like having a three-ring circus camped out in the front yard, or a particularly skilled magician. Nothing was required of us but attention and appreciation, qualities described so well by Annie Dillard in her exquisite Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

“The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass.
I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

Perhaps none of this – the happy hound, the cold-cocked squirrel, the passage from Dillard – would have come to mind had I not glanced onto my patio recently and noticed something protruding from the cactus I fondly call “His Blobbiness”.  A friend offered him to me about ten years ago after becoming bored with a plant which, in his words, “didn’t do anything”.  It was in some ways a fair statement, since the poor cactus really hasn’t appeared to “do anything” except sit in his pot and expand.  In fact, His Blobbiness had kept such a low profile I was astonished when I walked out to explore the protruding “something” and discovered it was a bud.

In another few days, a second bud appeared. Two weeks later, there would be a third. They were elegant and beautiful, and their development was terrific fun to watch. While I waited for the blooms, I wondered: what color would the flowers be?  How large? How long would the blossoms last?  Would His (Her?) Blobbiness bloom just once, or repeatedly, like my lovely Godette?

Despite my attentiveness, I nearly missed the show because of a wrong assumption. My other cacti are day bloomers, opening in the rising warmth of the sun before fading and falling at night. Not so, His Blobbiness!  When I photographed the first nearly-opened bud, I expected to get up the next morning with a blossom to celebrate. Instead, passing by the patio doors about eleven that night,  my eye was caught by an unexpected patch of white, shimmering in the darkness.

As it turned out, my wonderful cactus is a night bloomer, producing blossoms the size of luncheon plates under cover of darkness.  In the morning, the blooms would hold for a time, but by sunrise they already were fading. By noon they were closed, and by sunset they looked like little more than dying stems as the plant once again became its old low-profile self.

After the blooming had finished, I called my friend for a little good-natured ribbing.  “So,” I said. “You think your cactus just sits around? Check your email.”  “Is that real?” he asked after looking at the photos. “I never thought that cactus would do anything, and I certainly never imagined those blooms!”

“No,” I said, “I never imagined them either. Even when I knew they were coming, I almost missed them, but this time I was lucky. I managed to be there.”

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Published in: on August 11, 2011 at 7:33 pm  Comments (65)  
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  1. This is very lovely story. I enjoyed reading this – very good.

    from kevin in hampshire uk

    • Kevin,

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you so much for stopping by – you’re welcome any time.

      Linda

  2. What a story or line of stories about “being there” when the mockingbird falls or the cactus blooms. Well told, and I would have picked up Happy if he pointed and stayed too. That red hydrant was a center ring circus.

    That you quote Dillard is all too good. One of the finest writers ever about nature and us being in it and it being in us. Poor old Happy. Remember those days and tell the tale far and wide — thank goodness for blogging so that I can read your narratives.

    • Jack,

      To my mind, Dillard is a natural successor to Loren Eiseley, whose work I’ve admired for years. Apart from their interest in the natural world, both are terrific writers and interested in the creative process itself. Settle in seriously with Dillard and there’s no need for those expensive writing workshops in Austin. ;-)

      I thought you’d like Happy. He was a good dog. If he’d landed in different circumstances and had a pack to run with, he would have thrived.. But he played the hand he was dealt, and did a fine job of it.

      Feels good to be writing again. The tales are stacked up, for sure!

      Linda

  3. Thanks for putting a smile on my face, Linda.

    • oldsalt,

      Smiling’s good, no question about it. I did a little smiling myself while I was writing – actually, every time I looked at the photo of that beagle I laughed!

      And I did a little more laughing after I saw your latest and refreshed my memory of her writing. A nice dose of Molly Ivins always is good for what ails a person.

      Linda

  4. Wow – lucky you passed the evening blooms and caught them in pictures! which are remarkable. In fact, they are particularly gorgeous for being so quick about their existence.

    Of course I loved the Happy story (we have a beagle) and you sure can tell a good story. I laughed, too, at the squirrel – I couldn’t help it and so glad he recovered, though likely never from his embarassment.

    Family stories, especially those that grow to mythical proportions are the best. Thanks for sharing these.

    We are surrounded by wonderful tales. All it takes is the looking. Keep us current – there are likely other events unfolding on your balcony!

    (BTW, we have a suburban beagle and he does not hunt. He does not even stalk anything! I believe in fact that he holds actual conversations with the resident wildbirds and bunnies.)

    • oh,

      Sometimes I think there’s a correlation between the life span of a blossom and its beauty. After all, if you’re only going to be around for twelve hours, you need to make a quick impression!

      I remembered your beagle. I love the breed generally – they’re so silly and sweet and fun, and it makes perfect sense to me that yours should add the birds and bunnies to his “pack”. Happy just added a whole new dimension to that bit about “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”.

      Mom loved that tale about the squirrel. In fact, she still was telling that one to a nurse during her last hospitalization. Apparently it really impressed her when it happened. ;)

      And of course you’re right – there are nascent tales all around. Lucky us that we get to tell them!

      Linda

  5. Hello, Linda! How nice to read your latest blog! As always, your stories are charming and manage to tug at the heart-strings. I can relate to Happy the Beagle; sometimes I wonder if I’m not ‘hunting’ after the wrong things, too! My Sammy picks up on odd objects, as well; a jacket left on a lawn chair, a garbage can out of place, a fallen branch… they are all ‘stranger-danger’ and with lowered head and eyes narrowed suspiciously, he “huffs” with a deep woof as if trying to scare them into flight.

    I hope all is well with you! I’m still carrying on… hope to get back to WU soon, but I am more or less keeping up with my Word Press blog. It somehow seems to help to put all the divorce angst into words, even though it may not be very interesting to others. :-)

    ~ Beth

    • Beth,

      I’d not really considered that “hunting the wrong things” angle, perhaps because, for Happy, that hydrant seemed to be absolutely the “right thing”.
      But now that you mention it, I can remember a time or two (or more!) when I’ve gotten fixated on the wrong thing and wondered why the results weren’t what I expected. ;)

      Sammy’s more a herder than a hunter, I suppose. And after all, he has to keep his herd safe from those branches and garbage cans! I get such a kick out of Dixie when something new comes into the house – such sniffing and looking and growling you’ve never heard. I think she finally got sensory overload while I was in the process of clearing out Mom’s apartment – too many boxes with too much stuff showed up. She just couldn’t cope!

      Sorting through complex situations with words is all good, in my opinion. Sometimes the process of writing becomes a substitute for living, and that’s not so good. But you’re doing fine. Look how far you’ve come!

      Linda

  6. Hi Linda
    What an absolutely super fire hydrant story. That dog sounds like such a character, poor thing.
    I’ve never heard of a night blooming cactus – your photos are really good.

    • dearrosie,

      That dog was a character, and like all true characters he didn’t give a whit about what others thought of him. He simply was himself – his nature may have been a little weird, but he surely was true to it!

      I think the cactus is a night-blooming cereus. It’s not the kind that’s often shown – a viney, climbing sort of thing – but it meets all the other qualifications and the Wiki does mention that some are kept outdoors because they’re “large and ungainly”. That’s His Blobbiness!

      Now that I’ve got some pics, I need to send them to one of the online cactus boards and get a good identification. One of these days. ;-)

      I hope you’re continuing to heal every day, as am I. Wouldn’t it be great to be close enough for an afternoon of chit-chat? Ah, well. These blogs aren’t so bad!

      Linda

      • I’m taking small steps, one step at a time… I found cleaning the house helps = nesting. We worked on the patio this afternoon. The rosemary bush was way too big for the small space. After we removed it, we swept and cleaned everything and went over to Ikea and bought a couple of comfy chairs and had our afternoon tea in comfort out there. Would love it if you could come for a chit-chat.

        • I’ve been keeping one of my favorite bits of advice in mind – do what you can do, not what you can’t.

          Of course, there’s always that bit from Woody Allen. “The longest journeys begin with a single step. The best journeys begin with a moment of temporary insanity.” ;-)

          L.

  7. As usual I am mixing Barley and Beagles. The herron has been hanging around the fish pond lately so the fish stay down. BBC posted a picture of goldfish in a globe.
    I have used up all my “Thank Yous”
    It’s good to have you back here.

    • Ken,

      Well, a goodly number of folks who knew Happy mixed barley and beagles, too. Generally, their barley was fermented and in a can. ;-)

      At least the heron knows what to target. He’d better watch his back, though. There’s a raccoon watching him…

      Believe me, it’s good to be back. A new post was a good way to mark month #2. I believe we’re on the move. ;-)

      Linda

  8. Hi Linda,
    Loved the Happy tale and you tell it all so well.

    The night blooming catus reminded me, I missed the moon flowering vine doing it’s thing at my daughter’s and now I see the moonflower bush ready to go here on the Hill and I will miss it too. I need some “Being There” time.

    • dutchee,

      You would have loved Happy, too. He was quite the dog. It made me happy to tell his tale.

      My gardening friend over on the west side of Kerrville is afraid she may have lost her moonflower in the drought. They’re on top of a hill and really have suffered in the heat – I’m wondering if they got any of the rain last night.

      Anyway, the well’s not dry but she’s really been rationing water and some things are going. She’s got beds all around the house, with a lot of rock work, etc., and even though she started going to native plants some years ago, it’s tough to keep them all going.

      Anyway – who knows? There may be something out there even more beautiful and pleasing than the moonflower. Keep your eyes open!

      Linda

  9. Thanks to your sharp senses and ever observant availability (being there), we can enjoy interesting posts like this one, Linda. The cactus flower is lovely. I’m just wondering… did it just bloom for one night or more? Maybe you can set up a time lapse camera to capture the flowers blooming, now that would be superb.

    BTW, I’ve had only one dog in my whole life for a very short period during my childhood days, and his name was Happy. But I don’t think he ever had the experience as this curious beagle, being free to explore and ‘be himself’. Our Happy had to stay indoor in an apartment and that’s why we had to give him away. The problem with living in an ultra urban city when I grew up. I’m sure that kind of living could dull one’s senses, rendering one less available to observe.

    • Arti,

      Each flower bloomed for just one night. They’d start to open about 10 p.m., after full dark. They opened fully between about 2 and 6 a.m., and as soon as the dawn began, you could see the little beauties begin to slump.

      When I was in Liberia, there were some lilies that bloomed only once each year, for one night, and only under the full moon. We had watch parties. ;-)
      They’d open so fast – in about a half hour – it was like watching time lapse. The blooms were big, too – about twice the size of a normal Easter lily.

      I can’t believe you had a dog named Happy – what a coincidence. Yes, apartment living can be hard on a dog – or boat living, for that matter. On the other hand, there are some dogs who adore life on a boat. The Schipperke is one such breed. I’ve known many people who’ve cruised with them, especially since they’re also excellent guard dogs. The article I linked suggests they’re also good for apartments. I suppose the trick is in picking the right breed. I’ll bet the folks I knew who lived aboard their boat with a pair of Dalmatians might have regretted their decision a time or two.

      Of course, as you hint, dogs aren’t the only species that might have problems with urban living!

      Linda

  10. Thanks for being there!

    • Bogon,

      As Garrison Keillor liked to say, “I’m just happy to be here…”

      Linda

  11. This was so much fun to read. So many great moments in it. :)

    • Jo,

      It was lots of fun to write, too – people dogs like Happy make great memories.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

      Linda

  12. Glad to see you are back.

    • Nanette,

      Yep. And ready to affront. ;-)

      Linda

  13. Hello Linda,
    What a wonderful story, or rather several related stories, about “being there”. That was a great subject to explore!

    Of course I loved the story about Happy and the other critters and the cactus. WOW what a beautiful flower.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those, but if they only bloom at night I probably would not have “been there” for the occassion!
    Thank you for getting it on film.

    And Thank you for another delightful story!
    Patti

    • Patti,

      When I saw your photos from your trip north – the farm, the fishing, and so on – I knew immediately that you’ve had your own times of “being there”. You’re as good at paying attention as anyone I know!

      I was sure you were one of the folks growing night-blooming cereus – the ones with the thinner leaves that vine. I know someone’s shown pics of those on WU – I’ll have to go exploring.

      It’s always a treat to have you stop by – have a good weekend!

      Linda

  14. Even before I read as far as that paragraph I was agreeing with your dad. Happy had marvelous instincts and only a little training in what to focus on could have made him a wonderful hunting dog.

    It is a beautiful experience to be there to witness the first untrained displays of a dog’s instincts of breed.

    • LowerCal,

      Dad was right a good bit of the time, about a lot of things. Like most guys in Iowa he did some pheasant hunting, and knew a thing or two about dogs.

      I imagine Dog’s taught you a thing or two, and probably provided some entertainment of his own. It’s just great to have such wonderful creatures around.

      Linda

  15. It is exactly that quality of patient attention, of “being there” that makes all of your writings so alive. Poor squirrel! Silly Happy! Beautiful, surprising flower (how is Godette doing, by the way?)!

    We had a beagle until I graduated from college, and he did follow all of the antics of his breed. Too gun-shy for deer hunting, he nonetheless stalked, and provided, in his own manner. If my parents were hosting a picnic he would disappear for the morning, emerging about 20 minutes before the event with a savory, well-ripened carcass. This “treasure” was placed in front of the kitchen door with all the solemnity of an offering to the gods…

    It is good to have you back writing and thinking and illuminating the world for us again, Linda. I’m glad to see you!

    • ds,

      Godette just got herself repotted! She’s gained another three inches in height, and is blooming on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, Godot’s been repotted too, and seems ready to put on some new girth as well as height.

      I really have wondered if our drought hasn’t contributed to His Blobbiness blooming. This is the first year since I’ve had him that it’s been so consistently hot and dry – not just hot, but in-the-hundreds-hot. I may have been giving it too much water over the years, and thus preventing blooming.

      Aren’t animals wonderful? And yes, those offerings. Even dear Dixie, housebound and with few opportunities, will stalk, kill and deliver the occasional tree roach or cricket that gets inside. If I see one scoot inside from the patio, there’s no need to worry. Herself will be on the case immediately!

      It’s good to be back. In many ways I feel like I’ve been in a far country – it’s been quite the summer. Now, it’s time to get some new routines established!

      Linda

  16. Very enjoyable post! The cactus blossom is spectacular! Could it be the night blooming cereus?

    • Montucky,

      I think it might be a kind of night blooming cereus. Most I’ve seen have slender leaves and tend to climb, but I did see a mention of one variety that tends, in the words of the writer, “to be more muscular”. ;-)

      Certainly His Blobbiness is more muscular. I’ll say this – even if I can’t positively identify the cactus, I certainly have gained an amazed appreciation for the wide variety that are out there, and for the patience needed to identify one of them.

      Linda

  17. I love the idea of blossoms being drawn towards moonlight rather than sunlight. It makes them seem more mysterious – mythical flowers looking towards their goddess/mother.

    Another wonderful story, and I thank you for that. Delightful, calming photographs, too.

    • aubrey,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

      So much happens at night – sudden blossoms, phosphorescence at sea, star-shadows. One of my readers left these words from Galileo on a previous blog:

      “I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

      Galileo was one smart cookie.

      Linda

  18. Linda – what a wonderful story. You have had quite the childhood, and I love that you are so willing to share the stories with us. I saw that red fire hydrant in the photo and thought, could that be real? It’s so RED!

    Happy sounds like a happy go lucky dog. Cute story, and the cactus! Wow! I’ve gotten some unusual blooms from plants too. It’s just a wonder, isn’t it? Mother Nature truly does know what she’s doing!

    • Karen,

      Happy was lucky to have some extraordinarily easy-going owners. While they didn’t spend much (any) time in training, they were tolerant of his quirks. As far as they were concerned, it was enough that he liked the kids and would let them pull his tail.

      Oh – the fire hydrant. ;-) In the Google Earth photo it was nearly invisible in the shadows, so I thought I’d spiff it up a bit. After all, it was as much the focus of the story as Happy – people needed to see it! But I certainly remember it being really, truly red. When I make the trip up to Iowa, I’ll be checking it out to make sure it’s been maintained properly!

      Linda

  19. It was wonderful hearing all these glimpses of memory. I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful analogy of how fleeting life is from the night bloom. I look back now and see I spent so many vital years planning to do this or that; saving carefully only to see the dream fade without fruition. then, one day I looked up and it was too late. Those I wanted to share those plans with were gone.

    • maggie,

      I think all of us have experienced that. My single worst experience came the day I finally called a former professor I’d been thinking of for a year, and managed to call on the very day he’d died.

      I do know this – mom’s death has brought home the truth of things. I have a good twenty years left – may a few more, maybe a few less. What I do with those years is entirely up to me – and if I have things I want to do now, I’d best be at them.

      After all, as Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

      Linda

  20. I have not yet read the whole piece,
    but the idea behind it reminded me of science fiction short stories I read in the ’50s predicting just this “whirl”.
    Who do I immediately think I need to share it with?

    How did you know there was a raccoon by the pond?

    Maggie’s comment hits too close to home.
    Some old “Crosby,Stills,Nash and Young” comes to mind.

    • Ken,

      How did I know there was a raccoon by the pond? Easy. There’s always a raccoon – or six, or twelve – by a stocked pond. ;-)

      As for Ms. Kellaway’s article… I suppose that’s all well and good for the Blackberry crowd, but I just couldn’t figure out how I could be “still (sort of) working when absent”. I’d need a pretty long handle on that varnish brush!

      Of course there’s another way to look at her argument. As Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Ergo: no need for worlidays.

      And there’s always the possibility of creating an environment at home that mimics some of the qualities we love in a vacation – peace and quiet. I’m amazed how much difference tossing the television made.

      I’ve got a nickel here I’m willing to bet on this being your song. I give it a listen every now and then.

      Linda

      • Gottcha.
        I was thinking:”If you can’t be with the one you love, Love the one you’re with!”
        Mind you, the above tune is a fine call – they needed Young to crank it up a bit.

  21. I’ll catch up with more posts later, but before I hit bed, I had to check in and get my dose of Happy, which is so needed on such a sad day. And yes, I have a smile on my face as I think of Happy and of all the other unexpected little miracles that are everywhere we look — if we look long and hard enough and choose to view them as such. To have Happy’s diligence and rapt focus is indeed a gift — and face it, some of the most creative people I know, the ones who most get into the zone, are a little off center in other parts of their world. Happy isn’t so different than a lot of us.

    I’m so glad you got your beautiful flower — things beginning anew. Seems like there’s a metaphor in there — I’m a little too tired to dig it out, but I suspect you can find it.

    Thanks for your concern. This, too, will pass. I just hope it’s soon.

    • jeanie,

      You know, I’ve been noticing a lot of folks writing recently about the need for balance in life. Balance is good – we all acknowledge the need for balanced diets and a balanced checkbook.

      But another word sometimes used for balance is stasis, and that isn’t always so good. Sometimes “stasis” means motionless, and that doesn’t aid creativity. You’re right – diligence and focus may look like obsessiveness and narrowness of vision to an outsider, but if we’ve caught our hydrant, who cares? ;-)

      As for the flower – to paraphrase the good Dr. Freud, sometimes a flower is a metaphor, and sometimes a flower is just a flower. I’m glad for these actual blooms, and I hope you and your colleagues get some metaphorical ones soon!

      Linda

  22. Love the “Happy” story. So funny. That house sure has a clean garage!

    So glad you managed to “be there” to see your cactus blooms. Half of life is being there and the other half is paying attention.

    • Bella,

      And of course you noticed that clean garage because the door was open! That’s the way it was when I was growing up, too. We mostly didn’t lock doors, and garage doors generally stayed open, unless kids were shooting hoops on the driveway, or it was snowing or raining, or vacation time had come. At night? Closed. During the day? Open. So of course everyone kept those garages neat as a pin. Pride, you know.

      And I’ve identified His Blobbiness! Yes, a cereus, but “cereus monstrose”. As in, monstrous. It’s a perfect name.

      I’m laughing – think of all the parents and teachers in the world who spend inordinate amounts of time saying, “Pay attention!” Kids – the perfect illustration of your point. ;-)

      Linda

  23. What a wonderful cast of characters performing on that front lawn, including the hydrant — all doing what they do best and not worrying about what the audience wants to see. I especially love the cactus, flowering at night when (it thought) no one was watching.

    • Bronxboy,

      That’s right! The fire hydrant had a role, too – it wasn’t just a prop. There’s only one time I saw it shiver in fear, and that was the winter the Snow Cardinal showed up. ;-)

      Linda

  24. Well, dang… I’m gonna have to get me a red fire hydrant to put in the front yard, if that’s the kind of entertainment you can get out of ‘em! My neighborhood could use some excitement.

    I had a night blooming cereus once. It was given to me by a neighbor of my Dad’s in Sumter. It got left outside one night, the temps dipped too low and it died. I did get to see it bloom a few times. Sat up to mighnight or later, the first time. Lovely bloom and delightful scent.

    I’ve thought about finding a replacement cutting. I have so little room inside to overwinter plants, that I just haven’t bothered.

    • Bug,

      That’s the problem, isn’t it? That danged wintertime. I hated to get rid of all of Mom’s plants, but it either was that or (a) not be able to walk around the patio in summer and (b) not be able to use the living and dining rooms in winter.

      I’ve been surprised to learn how many varieties of cereus there are. Actually, I’m surprised by cactus generally, and find them quite appealing. I just wish I could learn to stop touching the danged things!

      You do know you can buy fake fire hydrants, right?

      Linda

  25. Linda,

    Those blooms are beyond gorgeous! When your friend visits, make sure you see him to the door.

    My first two years of college were in a Catholic women’s college. The biology nun came back from the weekend and was in tears Monday morning. She’d realized she’d missed the one-day, once-a-year blooming of her cactus.

    This is what happens when nuns go wild!

    • Claudia,

      Now that I know His Blobbiness can bloom, I’m going to have to see if I can encourage him to do it again, before ten more years have passed. I hope it isn’t our heat and drought that made it happen this year – if that’s the case, I’ll happily resign myself to looking at the pictures instead.

      And I understand how that poor nun felt. That’s why I was determined to take my first blooming cactus on vacation with me. I finally decided that was a bit much, so I brought it in and put it in the kitchen where it was pretty dark, and left the AC on 76 while I was gone. That was enough to slow down the process until I got back.

      Sometimes I think I’m nuts, and sometimes I know I am. ;-)

      Linda

  26. Lovely post. I smiled at the story of the red hydrant and Happy and the other high drama that took place around the hydrant. What a great story. And then, the blooming cactus.

    Shortly before mom died I repotted a tiny Christmas cactus for her–a cactus that had never bloomed. And then, just before Easter and her birthday, a month after she was gone…it bloomed like you wouldn’t believe. Those small gifts. And Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is one of my most favorite all-time books–Dillard’s art of noticing and writing about what she notices is breathtaking.

    • Martha,

      The small gifts – often the best gifts, for sure. I don’t know if I mentioned it here, but while I was sorting through Mom’s papers, I found an empty credit union envelope. It was postmarked 1984 – three years after my dad died. On the back, she had written in her fine, Palmer hand, “Being disorganized is not a moral problem”.
      I have that framed now, in a conspicuous spot – both as a wonderful, funny reminder of her, and as a cautionary word to myself!

      And isn’t Dillard wonderful? Whenever I play the old “if you were marooned on a desert island and could have only one book” game, she’s almost always the one.

      Linda

  27. A great post with those memories revolving round the fire hydrant, Linda. Beautifully illustrated, too.

    And what does this make me think of, personally? Well, that fact that around the time you were moving into that house in 1958, I would have been moving into a new house in Sydney with my parents, after arriving there from England.

    Beagles make me think of Sydney Airport, where those cute little dogs are used by customs to run all over bags and sniff them.

    We had a night flowering plant when we were in Sydney. It was given to us by a friend, and we saw it bloom just a few times. From the photo, it seems that it’s from the same family, although the flowers on ours had long stems.

    • Andrew,

      Isn’t it fun to compare notes about the “wheres and whens” of life? One of my best blog buddies, it turns out, was in Africa the same time I was and you and your family were moving. You just never know.

      I’ve never heard of beagles being used to examine baggage, but of course they could be trained to do that. I didn’t realize until I wrote this piece that they have such keen noses. I knew they liked to chase things, of course, but so does my cat, and she’d never do for an airport!

      I’m sure you’re seeing every sort of wonderful blooming plant on your latest excursion. Glad to learn the trick of the “escape” key, and looking forward to more photos!

      Linda

  28. Loved the hydrant story, Linda. I think I would find it very hard to appreciate a fire hydrant in the middle of my yard…. But it did provide you with lots of entertainment! The squirrel one cracked me up, in particular. You do love squirrels, don’t you!? I am not fond, they create such havoc in my garden. The dogs absolutely despise the interlopers, and trample everything to get the beasts out of “their” territory.
    Hope you are well. Hope you’ve had some rain!!

    • kerrylee,

      You remember! Yes, I’m quite fond of the squirrels, even though they do every single awful thing that they get accused of. But they’re smart, and alert, and are willing to put up with silly humans for peanuts or pecans, so they make pretty good companions.

      What’s really rather – funny – is that my mother and my pet squirrel died from the same cause. Congestive heart failure. Let’s just say veterinary medicine has progressed farther than a lot of people know. Squirrel sonograms and such? It can be done ;-)

      Not a drop of rain yet, except that bit that caused the barometer bush to bloom. Since then, hot and dry, except when it’s hotter and drier. We’re learning patience.

      Linda

  29. Linda, what a lovely story, and an excellent reminder to slow down and appreciate what my minister calls the “small dramas of life.” In times like these, with so much seemingly negative happening around the world, it’s important to appreciate the quiet way the world moves forward. Lovely piece, as always!

    • Courtney,

      “The quiet way the world moves forward…” What a lovely thought, and a lovely way of phrasing it. That’s what babies are for, and animals and birds, and the whole cycle of the days.

      We do live in a world seemingly dedicated to bigger, better, faster, flashier – but when I think about it, it’s the smaller, ordinary, slow and subtle that I remember. I need to nurture that way of being.

      Linda

  30. Hi Linda
    A couple of weeks ago we went to dinner at our friend Janet’s new house and were invited to the next door neighbor’s house to see their night blooming cactus. The leaves were smooth – not like yours – but the flowers looked the same and oh my word their scent was so magnificent I couldn’t take myself away.
    We were told to come back and he’d give us a baby. We did and he did. And it’s in my yard now. I can’t wait….

    • Rosie,

      What a thrill! Mine was interesting for the fact that it didn’t have a strong scent. I’d thought that the night bloomers all have that scent to help pollinators find them. Perhaps not.

      In any event, I’d be interested to hear how yours does, and if you get it identified. I wouldn’t mind starting another one and if would be fun to have one that smells good.

      And what a good neighbor your friend has! Of course, plant lovers tend to be that way, at least in my experience. They enjoy their plants so much they want to “share the wealth”!

      Linda

  31. Animal antics can be such fun! As a child I was fortunate to witness a singular event of my small grey cat out stalking butterflies (or some such equal wild game) in the jungle of our lawn. Our neighbours German Shepherd, upon spying the predator feline, succumbed to natural instincts and decided an attack was in order. Once cat realized she was now the prey, took flight directly towards the the house which was bordered with rose bushes.

    Cat, of course, ran between two bushes and executed a high speed right turn before the foundation wall. Dog, intent on his intended prey, and not blessed with an abundance of brain, followed. The yikes of multiple thorn scratches and subsequent thud of foundation wall impact are still resonating.

    Rick

    • Rick,

      Isn’t it amazing how clearly we remember some of these incidents? They’re very much like real-world photographs, as clear and detailed as the original event. Maybe more clear, now that I think about it. The extraneous elements are gone and what remains is essence of event, distilled memory.

      Cat-and-Dog is nearly as good as Male-and-Female when it comes to the old comparison and contrast game. I’ve always wondered what it is that makes some folks “cat people” and others “dog people”. Whatever it is, I suspect it’s not logical.

      Hope the dog didn’t hurt himself too badly. I can heard that thud from here.

      Linda


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