Izzy’s Happy the Book is Done — and so am I!

You may have wondered what happened to Izzy and me.  You may not.  Well, whether you have or haven’t, I’m going to tell you.  I was finishing my novel.  Now it’s done, and I am edging back toward normal.  Or  at least what can be called normal for writer types like me.  Once I hit the last key and sent the novel on to my hopefully-new-agent, the crud hit me, reminding me that I AM a human being even though I often forget that part.  After a visit to urgent care and doctor’s orders to stay home for a week (bronchitis, verging on pneumonia), I’m back to tinkering on the keyboard.  Izzy has been a fine nurse for the past week, but I’m getting cabin fever, and as much as he likes me being home, I think he’s ready to have his naps whenever and wherever he wants them rather than following me around the house.

It’s funny, but this forced relaxation has made me ponder my writing.  I think of the novel-writing process as having physical stages.  There’s the Walking Stage.  In the very beginning of cooking up a novel, I take Izzy for long walks to let my brain work out the basic premise of the story where I don’t have to be bothered by techno-interruptions.  He loves that part.

Then there’s the Hopping Stage.  This is the part where I’m getting the outline down on the page.  There’s a lot of hopping up to get tea, then settling back in for a while, growling a lot, then hopping back up to get more tea . . . or if it’s past noon somewhere, wine.  Lots of wine.  Izzy gets patted a lot during this stage.

The next stage is the Scrunching Stage.  I’m at the table or on the couch or in the bed scrunched over the laptop or a pad of paper.  Unfortunately, my butt gets wider during this stage, Izzy is walked less, and I tend to eat a lot of brownies or chocolate chip cookies or pizza.  Definitely not a healthy stage.  But Izzy loves pizza crust!

The third stage is the longest, but the fourth stage–the Yoga Stage–is the best one.  Because my back and shoulders are so sore from the Scrunching Stage, I have to do lots of yoga to work out the kinks when I’m in the process of editing and proofreading.  Izzy’s really good at Down Dog, but he sucks at headstands.

Finally, the last stage.  The Staring into Space and Thinking Stage.  Not much physical movement other than with the eyes.  Often I’m rolling them at some stupid paragraph or closing them to imagine where I was going with a scene or rubbing them because I’m just so damn tired.  During this stage, my laptop is somewhere near at all times.  Izzy’s sick of the novel by this stage and pushes his way into my lap, no matter what kind of tasty treats I throw to the floor to keep him busy.  He protests that it’s time for him again, and he’s right.

Unfortunately, it seems that after the novel is done, I have a final-final stage when my body and mind are exhausted and need some rejuvenation.  It’s during this stage that Izzy earns his keep, because then he becomes Nurse Izzy, and though he often sleeps on the job, he’s the best Nurse in the world.

Now if I could just talk him into buying a publishing company . . . .

Sleepy Nurse

Sleepy Nurse

Izzy’s Glad He Doesn’t Live in Thailand: The Thailand Dog Trade

Lately, Izzy’s been confused about why the dogs across the street bark nonstop — and I’m getting irritated by it.  I have to turn up my TV to the point where I feel like one of those senior citizens who refuses to get hearing aids even though s/he’s going deaf.  But what we’re going through on our little street in North Carolina is really silly compared to what the dogs in Thailand experience regularly.

In Southeast Asia, the dog trade is phenomenal.  I’m not going to post photos here, but if you click here or Google “dog trade Thailand,” you’ll get your fill of some of the most disgusting photos you’ve ever seen.  And they’ll break your heart.  People shove dogs into tiny crates, so many dogs that their faces are smashed against the wires, and most of them never make it alive to their final destination.

Let me say this:  I respect other cultures and really don’t like listening to others who feel the need to diss others simply because their traditions aren’t the same.  However, when it comes to saving animals, I’m not going to shut my mouth — especially when I look at the happy and loving dog who lives with me and think about the thousands of other dogs who never get a chance to live like Izzy does.

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One of the clinics that works nonstop to save Thailand’s dogs is the Soi Dog Foundation.  Their volunteers have worked tirelessly to bring the Thai dog trade to a screeching halt, but when you work to end a horrible business, you rarely realize what it’s going to cost to change that practice.  The clinic’s volunteers have given of themselves — mentally, physically and economically, and I salute them as dog heroes.  Hell, simply as heroes.

If you have a dog that lives in a healthy and safe environment, like Izzy does, think about either giving your voice or your assistance to foundations like Soi Dog so that others will learn to respect the best friends humans have.

Izzy and the Drug Dealer

I know.  This is a weird entry during this holiday season.  To tell the truth, I never would have predicted it, but I’ve got to write about it.

Izzy and I see the same people on our walks every day, the same people walking the same dogs.  Some of them are our friends; others make me turn around and go the other way.  That was the case with the kindly old man who owns the small red pit bull mix.

I first met the old man shortly after he had a stroke.  At the time, Izzy was still young and hadn’t become friendly with anyone.  The old guy took it as a challenge to befriend my little guy.  His dog, an old Schipperke, was almost blind and so heavyset that she waddled rather than walked.  She could barely see before her, but she smelled my little guy and let Izzy do his puppy bows in front of her, trying to entice her to play.  Beset with arthritis, she did her best, but her best usually consisted of wagging her tail a bit more vigorously.

The old man would watch out his apartment window and come out to greet us with Lacey when we walked by at lunchtime.  Often I had to remind him that I needed to go back to work, but he would continue talking to my little guy, trying to get Izzy to relax enough to be patted, but Izzy wasn’t ready for that yet.

Sometimes we would see him during the early morning hours on our walk before I went to work.  He’d try to bend down to pat Izzy who would back off, still not ready to trust humans.

When Lacey passed away, the old man came out and stood on the lawn in front of his apartment building, tears running down his lined cheeks, telling me how much he missed his “little girl.”  Again, he’d try to pat Izzy, and finally Izzy sniffed his hand.  Still, the man watched out the window for us, and even though he didn’t have a dog, he’d come out and say hello to us.  It was as if he wanted a “puppy fix.”  Izzy finally understood and let the man pat him.  It was a breakthrough for us, and I remember going home that day feeling like Izzy might finally stop barking at human beings and become more normal.

A couple of weeks later, the old man came out of the apartment building with another dog.  The same size as Lacey, the dog was reddish brown and all muscle.  She pulled at the leash and seemed almost frantic.  With the pointed ears of a pit bull, her face was small, her eyes like red stones.  She sniffed at Izzy, who wanted to play, as he usually does with dogs.

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The old man told me this dog had been tied up in a yard and left for days.  His son lived nearby and felt bad for the dog so took her and gave her to the old man.  “She’s not Lacey,” he said, “but I can train her.”

I wondered if that would be true when I saw him struggle to hold her while they walked down the street, his cane tapping in time with his footsteps.

Over the next couple of weeks, we continued to see the old man and his new dog, but each day, the dog seemed disinterested in becoming friends, and I worried that the old man wasn’t training her.

Then my friend Deb and I were walking Izzy one late summer afternoon and we met the old man and his dog.  This time, the old man bent to pat Izzy, and his dog decided that wasn’t acceptable.  She growled and snapped, ready to attack.  This wasn’t a playful animal.  The old man scolded her and held on tight.  Deb and I turned and practically ran the other way.

Over the months, the dog seemed to become more violent.  No matter how far away we walked, the dog charged and pulled at the leash, growling and barking whenever he saw Izzy.  He did the same with my friend Peggy’s little Maltese, and with the pug that moved in on the corner.  The dog wanted to attack, and the old man had to use all his strength to control his now out-of-control animal.

I could envision the man losing the dog’s leash and the reddish animal bolting across the street to rip my little Izzy in half.  In short, the dog terrified me.

I began turning and walking the other way whenever I saw them coming from a distance.  I tuned my hearing into the tapping of his cane and invented new routes to take so that we wouldn’t see them.

Then one morning I realized I hadn’t seen the old man for quite a while.  My walks had become more peaceful as a result of not being vigilant, not having to turn around and avoid the man and his dog.  Several weeks went by, and I started wondering what happened.

In a small town, one cannot hide, and the local newspaper reports everything from traffic tickets to domestic violence.  One weekend, there was a spate of arrests.  A local “drug ring.”  The newspaper published the photos of those who were arrested.  I was shocked.  The old man’s photo joined a group of much younger dealers.  Seventy-one years old, and he had been arrested for drug dealing.

I wondered what kind of drugs he’d been selling and whether those pills that he must have received to relieve the pain of his stroke were sold so that he could keep a roof over his head or feed his dog.  Then I wondered what happened to the dog.  I knew his wife couldn’t care for the animal.  And there were few people who could have handled the strong little animal.

Every morning when Izzy and I walk, I still listen for the click-click-click of the old man’s cane, and I wonder whether he’s in some jail, cold and trying to bend his arthritic legs.  But I don’t miss that dog.

Izzy and the Holiday Shindig

Every year, I invite my faculty and staff to my house for an annual holiday party.  People tend to come in “shifts” — ten or twenty at a time, over a three-hour span.  During the past couple of years, I’ve had one of my friends “babysit” Izzy or I’ve left him in the back yard.  This year, I decided to give him the ultimate test and let him stay for the whole party.  This is a big deal considering he’s gone from being the most antisocial dog I’ve ever had to a dog that now likes to say “hey” to his neighborhood friends but is still nervous about me having anyone over for dinner.  I have to admit I was nervous.

I gave him a bath that morning.  He’s had an issue with dry skin recently, so I used that as an excuse, but the truth is that I wanted him to look and smell nice when everyone came.  My next door neighbor, Deb, told me that afternoon when I took him for a walk, “I’m surprised you don’t have a bow for him to wear for Christmas.”

Rummaging through  my Christmas paper and ribbons, I found the perfect one for him to wear and put it around his neck.  Black and white polka dots with silver trim.  He pranced around the house as if he knew he was too cute for words.

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Throughout the day, he monitored my cooking, aroused by the smells that I know reminded him of pizza.  That’s the one meal that he and I “share.”  Whenever I cook a pizza and eat it while watching TV, he shares the crust with me, the only human food I let him have.  This year’s food theme for my party was Italian, so the smell of two different kinds of lasagna, meatballs, and pizza dip must have reminded him of pizza.  He pranced around the kitchen as if excited about the possibilities.

When the first two visitors arrived, he did his usual barking, but, thankfully, they had dogs of their own and were perfectly calm when he “greeted them.”  I warned him to be quiet, and he knew what was expected of him.  Wiggling, however, was not something he could stop.

The next couple of visitors oohed and aahed over him, then my neighbor (Deb) came over, and I could leave her in the living room with him while I prepared the food.  Perfect.

People came and went.  Izzy greeted everyone and popped around from person to person, seeming to enjoy the attention.  By the time we were more than an hour into the party, he had taken up a spot on the living room rug, just watching the conversations and occasionally doing some harmless begging.

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At the end of the night, the two of us sat on the couch, and I told him how proud I was of him.  I think he actually understood because his fan-of-a-tail wagged.  Love this little guy!

Izzy Doesn’t Care about Ferguson or NaNoWriMo but he does care about hard rain

I know that what’s going on in this country because of the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson is hot.  I get it.  I hate it, but I get it.  I wish we as a people didn’t have to be in this spotlight or having this conversation.  And I wish it wasn’t on my mind or so entrenched in social media because writing this blog post is stealing time from my other writing:  working on my novel and meeting my 50K word goal for National Novel Writing Month.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  I wonder how many other writers have written thousands of words in the past couple of days about the subject of racism when they could have been adding pages to their fiction.  Yet, that’s what we do as writers.  We plead, we question, we inform.  We grieve.

But dogs, on the other hand, don’t see race.  They don’t question another animal’s motivations.  When Izzy sees another dog, he thinks PLAYTIME.  That word might as well light up in neon lights over his little head, because that’s what that dog represents to him.  When he sees a squirrel, he thinks CHASE.  Though he has become a bit smarter about that one and knows now that squirrels do that skip-hop-jump thing to the nearest tree and that they have little suction cups on their feet that allow them to run along telephone pole wires.  When he sees a cat, he thinks ATTACK.  Yup, I have a little dog that absolutely detests cats.  He doesn’t know why; he just knows he does.  They are the one animal at which he barks, and if he wasn’t leashed, I’m sure that poor cat would be mincemeat.  Natural enemies.  He doesn’t care what color they are or what their belief systems are, whether they have families or are nice, purring cats.  They’re just cats.

Wait.  Does that mean those who see another person who’s different from them are just like animals with natural enemies?

Nope, I’m not going there.

Let’s continue.  Izzy doesn’t care about Nanowrimo either; in fact, when I’m on the laptop, the only thing he’s concerned about is why the laptop is taking up his space on my lap.  Move over, you damn keyboard.  Let me sit there.  If I don’t finish my 50K words by the end of this month, it wouldn’t make any difference to him.  He wouldn’t notice if I was depressed about not winning.  Not on his radar.

But this morning when I woke up to the sound of hard rain against my rooftop, I thought:  perfect.  Bad weather = good excuse to stay in and catch up on my writing.  Izzy went to the door, let me put on his Thundershirt (for the cold/rain), and when I opened the umbrella, I could see his eyebrows raise.  Uh oh.  Do I have to go out in this crap?  Halfway through our morning walk, the rain became a downpour, tearing leaves off the trees in such a torrent that Izzy (checking out a place to poop) jumped and ran.  From that point on, there was no calm moment for my little dog.  He shivered as he tried to find just the right spot, kept looking around as if afraid the boogey man was under each leaf, and never did quite settle down enough to finish his business.  He pulled me back up the street to the house, jumped over the rushing water in the street gutter, didn’t pause to sniff the piles of leaves my neighbors had blown yesterday, kept looking back at me as if to say, Come on, woman, I’ve had enough of this!  And when we reached the back door, he darted in, then shook and shook and shook until I took off the soaked Thundershirt and dried him with the towel I keep in the sunroom.  He’s been hiding on his bed ever since, and I’d be willing to bet my last dollar that even though he’ll want to go out again sometime today, he’ll give me that look right before we leave the door that says, Isn’t this stuff falling from the sky ever going to stop?

Izzy’s no help during NaNoWriMo

It’s November and that means it’s NaNoWriMo.  National Novel Writing Month.  For those of you not insane enough to write, it’s the month that we writers stick our butts in our chairs and don’t move until we’ve churned out 50,000 words.  If you listen closely right before midnight on November 30th, you’ll hear a sound much like that one when you rip a bandage off a skinned knee.  That’s our butts as we collectively remove ourselves from our chairs and go back to a normal life.  Or at least what could be considered normal for someone who stares at a computer screen talking to invisible people most of the time.

Dogs don’t understand that, and that’s one of the reasons Izzy’s no help during NaNoWriMo.

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When I talk to the screen, he thinks I’m telling him we need to go outside or play with the ball or eat dinner or — the most exciting–go get a treat.  He comes to my side, sits his little self down on the floor, cocks his head and barks once.  If I don’t quite get it and don’t move immediately, his tush comes off the floor and he goes into a puppy bow.  Heaven forbid I continue talking to that invisible person on screen, because then it’s a full-blown insistence for my attention — and an immediate walk.  Do not pause, mama, do not talk to that person in the screen, do not tell me to wait ten minutes.  Now.  Walk.  Pee.  Poop.

Fifty thousand words in one month.  1667 per day.  5.5 pages a day.  Or maybe 3000 words on a weekend day.  7-10 pages on a Sunday.  2-3 every other day during the week.  And if you write by hand, a cramped fist.  If working on a computer, stiff shoulders and a crick in your neck.

One good thing about NaNoWriMo when you have a dog is that you are forced to get up before the sun rises to take the little bugger for a walk.  Izzy forces me up before the sun stripes the sky with fuschia, pumpkin and robin’s egg blue.  Bleary-eyed with my brain still out of gear, I negotiate the dark streets with him running before me, determined to examine every telephone pole and pee on every bush.  While he explores, I kick the novel-writing mind into gear and think about the next scene I will write, consider what the character will do and how those actions will affect other characters, what the actions will impact further into the novel, and whether I should wait that scene for a time that’s more apropos of the story.  As Izzy paces back and forth dozens of times looking for the perfect place to poop, I’m considering whether to flesh out the description of a scene I wrote the previous day and whether to take time from creating the requisite 50K words to mine back over the pages already developed to see whether they should be shifted around or rewritten.  But the point is to move forward like the boats that split icebergs.  Constantly forward.  Nothing to do but to forge ahead.

Dogs never move straight ahead.  Their traffic patterns run in swirls and squiggles and include squeezing out pee drops so they can let others know they’ve been there.  A NaNoWriMo for dogs would start on November 1 and end in July (the previous July).

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What Izzy DOES understand about NaNoWriMo is that occasionally I get stuck.  When that happens, he does his job quite well.  He moves into my lap, lifting my hand with his nose so that I know my job is now to pat his head or rub his stomach.  Taking a break is most important in NaNoWriMo for it is in those moments that the creativity creeps in and the mind is refreshed.

I guess Izzy knows more about writing novels than I give him credit for.

Dogs and Death

One of the things that has always struck me as ironic is that we give our animals more dignity in death (usually) than we do our fellow human beings.  Whenever one of my animals has neared the end or contracted a deadly disease, I’ve had him/her “put down.”  I distinctly remember when my German Shepherd, Jessie, could no longer hold on at the old age of 19, and we made the decision to take her to the vet.

She couldn’t lift her head when I went out to the yard that morning to feed her.  For at least three years, her eyesight and hearing had been failing, but she still swung her tail, and she still knew that she was the one responsible for herding our other dog, a massive British Mastiff, whenever he was doing something wrong.  Though she couldn’t see me, nor hear me, when I touched her head, her tail wagged weakly, yet she couldn’t eat or drink.  I called my husband and told him to come home. Together, we went to the vet and held hands while he inserted the needle with the tranquilizers that would put her out of her misery.  Together, we cried like babies over the dog who’d been with us most of our adult lives.  Together, we buried her in the back yard where we would bury our Mastiff a scant three months later.  Leaving that house and their graves was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

During this season when all the leaves fall off the trees, the ground goes brown, and everything appears dead, Izzy is only excited.  He can see further, there are new smells, and somehow he seems to know that nothing is ever truly dead.  It’s just gone temporarily.  When we were walking this morning, it dawned on me that every day is new to him.  Ooh, what’s that over there?  Did I smell that yesterday?  I did?  Well, let me smell it again.  And that mean dog . . . there he is today.  Maybe he’ll be nice to me now.  Nope, he won’t.  Okay, let’s go the other way.  Even if he has done the same thing a hundred times, every time he does it again, it’s exciting.  He has no memory for the sadness of a dead rose bush or the crispiness of dead leaves on the ground.  A dormant rose bush is something new to investigate.  Those dead leaves?  Let’s scuff through them and throw them up in the air.

This season reminds me of all the people and things that no longer exist in my life:  those dogs I mentioned, my parents and grandparents, some friends.  I just lost my former mother-in-law last week, and the sadness that I have felt is one that deepens when I think about the fact that she is the last adult in my life.  There are no other generations before me.  I — and my siblings, my cousins, my friends — am the “older generation” now.  It dawns on me that every day brings me closer to the day that I, too, will no longer be part of this earth.

As with so many other life lessons, I learned this morning from Izzy that age simply doesn’t matter.  He doesn’t recognize dogs because they are puppies or because they are senior.  He recognizes simply that they are friends (or, in some cases, animals he needs to avoid).  He has no idea where he ranks on the scale of age, nor does he care.  He simply does.  He simply lives.  He simply explores every day as if it’s the first one.

By the time we arrived back at the house from our morning walk today, my eyes were no longer wet with the grief I felt for my mother-in-law.  Instead, I thought about the last photo she took:  nestled in a wheelchair, she weighed about 50 pounds, her cheeks sunken and unable to hold her teeth.  She wore a knitted hat over her kinky gray hair and her church friends and pastor clustered around her chair, all grinning as if enjoying a party.  In her lap, a tiny chihuahua.  I can hear her voice as if I were there myself:  “How cute!  Look at him wigglin’ all ’round.”

This week, I watched a brief video with Oprah interviewing Eckhert Tolle about what happens to us after death.  He explained that our body is a shell, animated by atoms that are pure energy.  When that energy dissipates, it leaves the shell that is our body inert.  The energy simply rejoins the other energy that powers our earth and every living being on it.  We are everything.  Everything is us.

I think animals know that.

A Dog’s Vacation is Never Done

The past two weeks have been inhumanly difficult.  Not a dog’s life. Impossible, really.  And Izzy has known it.  Every night, he crawls up on my lap and lays his head on my hand.  If I try to work at night, he insists of being beside me, paw pulling my hand away from my laptop.  He stares at me with his dark, round eyes as if begging me to pay attention to him.  He knows that I don’t normally stay in anxiety mode when I get home.  I know yoga.  I know how to breathe.  I know how to relax.  But this past two weeks have required working non-stop and anxiety is my middle name.

It’s the perfect time for a stay-cation.

And Izzy knows that, too.

This morning, he crawled up on my lap while I was still in bed (doing my checkbook — yup, I know.  Enough with the nonstop work.) and insisted I pay attention to him.  You’ve been in another place for weeks, his gaze seemed to say.  You owe me.

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Last night, his eyes drooped as I stayed up until 1 AM reading.  This morning, he pulled me determinedly as we walked up Main Street, and he understood when we had to make a u-turn because I heard the old guy’s cane tapping as he walked his pittie mix a block ahead of us.  I didn’t want to deal with the dog’s growling and barking and pulling at the leash to get at Izzy.  I think Izzy understands when we have to make detours.  He knows who his friends are and who aren’t.  The black pug and the girlie boxer and the raggedy Shihtzu and the little Maltese are his friends.  He understands their names when I speak them, and he loves being able to say hello to them when we’re on walks, but he doesn’t mind at all when we don’t say hello to the pittie mix that hates us. Izzy’s smart that way.  He realizes that not everyone has to be your friend.  I need to learn that lesson.

This morning, Izzy kept close until I finished eating a late breakfast and took out the laptop again.  Then he looked at me, gave a little nod and moved into the other room to wait for the mail delivery.  This is our weekend routine, even though it’s not the weekend.  He knows our weekend pattern:  breakfast in bed, catching up on TV, some reading, then I go out for a while:  visit my grandson, see friends, come back every four hours or so to check up on Izzy, more relaxed, not stressed like during the week.

By the end of this little stay-cation we’re about to start, I will have let loose of the anxiety. I will write and read.  I will see friends and family.  Izzy and I will have walked long walks at least twice a day.  He will have visited the groomer and will have shed at least five pounds of fur.  He will have cuddled with me on the couch for hours.  He will have greeted some of my friends who will visit.  He will have taught me the meaning of vacationing.  He will have simply enjoyed being with me.  Living.

Izzy’s Issues with Acorns

It’s 6:15 AM and my little street in Roxboro, North  Carolina sounds like Saigon during the height of the Vietnamese War.  Pop-pop-bang.  Bangbangbangbang.  Pow!

Izzy jumps.  I look to see where the sound is coming from.  Is it a car backfiring?  Someone firing a rifle at a squirrel or a raccoon?

I’m awake now, and the sound keeps going.  Ba-bang-bang.  Pop-pop-pop.  Still looking upwards, I trip and in catching myself, I look down.  The street is littered with acorns.  Hundreds of them on the sidewalk.  Little piles of them in the gutters.  Way too many scattered everywhere.  So that’s what the sound is.  There must be angry squirrels up in the trees loading up their little arms and filling their cheeks, then dropping the stash of acorns before they get to their nests.

Poppoppoppop!  The acorn machine-gun starts again, and Izzy whimpers as one hits him atop his head.  He does a little dance, glancing up at the tree we’re passing under, looking for those damn gray monsters he regularly chases when we’re walking down Main Street before the sun rises.  He stops and plants his feet, gives an angry growl, as if shaking a virtual fist at the squirrels he’s sure are sending small brown bombs from above.

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This is what is called a “mast year,” a year when ridiculously large amounts of acorns end up in piles beneath the trees.  Some scientists think it’s because the fruit of the nut is not eaten by birds and other animals (such as those pesky squirrels), while others believe it’s the weather (too much/too little rain) that results in either no acorns or the opposite — way too many.   Last year, there were complaints that there were few acorns (and in some places, none), but this year is just the opposite.  Some people in North Carolina state that there were a number of bear sightings in unusual places last year because they were searching for non-existent acorns.  Izzy and I are hoping that this year’s bumper crop means the bears will stay where they should.  I’m sure that the deer, who also eat the little brown nuts, will find themselves full and happy and that they are less likely to roam out in the open during hunting season.

Whatever the case, Izzy and I will be happy when the nasty, hard nuts disappear from the streets and sidewalks and from the angry squirrels who are probably laughing their fool heads off when they bop one of us with their tiny torpedoes.