Showing posts with label Fitzroy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fitzroy. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wolf territory

Wild wolves are now proliferating successfully in France, and their current population is 250.

Wild wolf, 13 November 2012, in the Mercantour park, southern France.
Photo AFP/Archives, Valery Hache.

A new 5-year "wolf plan" concocted by government authorities will become operational in spring. Since the geographical zone inhabited by wolves has been expanding by 25 per cent a year, their slaughter of grazing animals has been increasing at a similar rate. In 2012, for example, wolves in France killed 5,848 animals, mainly sheep, compared with 4,920 in 2011. An intriguing aspect of the forthcoming plan consists of trying to train wild wolves (the verb in French is "educate") to attenuate their slaughter and consumption of grazing animals. This will be done by capturing wolves that attack flocks, and keeping them locked up and fed with prepared meals for a while, during which time the imprisoned wolves will hopefully become aware of their sins and promise to mend their ways. It's a lofty goal (I'm reminded of the way in which religious authorities attempt to re-educate pedophile priests), but I'm not sure it'll work.

I often wonder whether my dear dog Fitzroy ever had an opportunity of meeting up with wolves in his birthplace in Risoul 1850. Apparently these beasts are thriving up on the slopes of the Hautes-Alpes department, where Fitzroy's parents looked after sheep and cattle. This morning, after reading about the good intentions of the new wolf plan, I walked outside to admire the falling snow. And I found Fitzroy devouring eagerly an unexpected breakfast meal.


It was the leg of an adult sheep, with tufts of wool still intact, suggesting that it had been killed quite recently. When I used a shovel to shift the bones to another spot, where I could examine them more closely, Fitzroy growled with displeasure. So I let him carry on gnawing at the bones. Notice, in the following photo, how he uses a paw to stabilize one end of the bone, just above the sheep's ankle.


Since I'm an optimist (like the folk who intend to educate wild wolves), I'll persist in believing, for the moment, that the sheep was already dead when Fitzroy came upon its carcass. This is a reasonable assumption. If ever Fitzroy were to return home from a sheep-slaughtering excursion, I would normally notice his blood-stained appearance and greasy smell. I shall nevertheless phone up my neighbor Gérard Magnat, this evening, to talk with him about this incident.

Needless to say, there's at least one perfectly plausible explanation, which we should not fail to consider, of how this sheep might have died. I'm referring to the possibility of a nocturnal visit from a genuine wolf.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Smartest dogs in the world

I forget how I obtained this information about the top ten smart dogs [access]. Maybe Fitzroy found this interesting article when he was browsing the web with my iPad, then he sent me the link.

Intelligence is one thing, of course. Knowing what to do with your superior intelligence is a quite different affair.


Fitzroy considers that intelligence is best devoted to the constant challenge of donkey control, regardless of whether or not the donkey in question wishes or needs to be controlled.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy new year, Fitzroy

I find it perfectly normal to allow my dog Fitzroy to use my iPad whenever he wants to catch up with what's happening in the outside world. So, I wasn't surprised when I noticed that he had received a new year message from the 40-year-old leftist daily Libération.


I can't imagine what might have happened if I had discovered that my dog was a right-wing reactionary. On the other hand, I wouldn't be at all dismayed if ever I were to learn that Fitzroy was gay.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Walnut war

In an article of 2 July 2012 entitled Not the answer [display], I deplored my inability to prevent mysterious Gamone rodents from devouring the totality of my walnut harvest. The culprits are almost certainly dormice (plural of dormouse, loir in French), seen here in a photo that I found on the web.


Otherwise, they might be members of the marten family (martre and fouine in French). I've often discovered the aftermath of their operations, but I've only had fleeting images of the animals themselves, who operate during the night. Well, at the end of the above-mentioned blog post, I vowed that I was determined to acquire some kind of anti-rodent walnut container. I searched at length on the Internet, but could find nothing of a suitable nature. Finally, I had to use my imagination in designing and building the ideal container, which I've just completed.


It's a meter wide, 50 cm in depth and 50 cm in height. The container is based upon a sturdy welded frame of angular steel. Stainless steel wire netting, sufficiently fine to keep out mice, is held in place by bolted strips of wood. The base of thick plywood is posed upon sturdy metal roller wheels. Theoretically, once it's closed by means of its heavy plywood lid, the fauna of Gamone should not be capable of accessing walnuts placed inside this container.


Instead of simply piling my current stock of Gamone walnuts into the new wire-mesh container, I decided to distribute them into several independent white-plastic crates, which will enable air to circulate more freely around the fruit.


Late yesterday afternoon, I went out shopping for these crates... at a moment when most shoppers were buying foodstuffs for their New Year dinners. (To be truthful, I dashed into the supermarket for a box of two dozen excellent Brittany oysters. At this time of the year, I'm reminded inevitably of arriving in St-Brieuc, once upon a time, and helping Jacques Mafart in the ritual opening of dozens of oysters.) No sooner had I stepped into a first self-service hardware store than I found exactly the ideal model of blue plastic crates that I had imagined. Using my tape measure, I was thrilled to discover that four of these big sturdy crates would occupy exactly the space inside my wire-mesh container: 100 cm x 50 cm x 50 cm. Alas, when I reached the pay desk, dragging along my four plastic crates, the young female employee smiled at me and explained: "I'm sorry, sir, but those are new containers that we received this afternoon, to be used by customers to hold their purchases inside the store. But we don't sell such crates." I asked her politely if I might be able to steal these crates. "You're free to try, sir," she replied with a friendly smile, "as long as we don't catch you." I decided that it would be easier to look elsewhere.

In case you were wondering, let me confirm that the construction of this container has necessitated a lot of time and energy. My Gamone walnuts are precious. So, if the anti-rodent container fulfills its purpose, I won't consider that my work has been "overkill". Meanwhile, I might add that the walnut box was built in the midst of my ongoing work site aimed at constructing a carport. Here's a photo of the current state of this project, which is evolving slowly but surely:


Inside the house, I'm pursuing my erection of a chimney system for a cast-iron wood stove, as outlined in my recent blog post entitled Fitzroy's favorite positions [display]. In all my life, I don't think I've ever been more active at a practical do-it-yourself construction level. The underlying reason for my hyperactivity is my firm belief that I shall remain at Gamone for the rest of my life on the planet Earth. In a nutshell, it's unthinkable that I could come upon a better environment in which to meditate upon existence.

The determined gaze of Fitzroy, in his favorite position at the top of the staircase, provides me with a model for meditation about crucial questions, and thinking about the future.


In normal circumstances, I hardly need to insist to persuade my dog to cuddle up against me in one way or another. The ultimate situation is when he finds me seated in front of the fireplace, and scrambles up into my lap. But curiously, when Fitzroy happens to be seated in his favorite position at the top of the staircase, it's difficult to distract his attention in any way whatsoever. His eyes are fixed intently upon an imaginary horizon, as if he were awaiting instructions from the heavens. Only after a minute or so does he appear to break out of his top-of-the-staircase spell, and scramble down the stairs. It's as if he were emerging from a moment of meditation, of verity. As for me, I like to imagine myself at the top of the staircase, and I seek inspiration from Fitzroy. My dog is my god.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I'm wondering whether Fitzroy's fixed regard at the top of the staircase might be an archaic  genetically-acquired behavior associated with the obvious folly of a wolf turning its head when it happened to be seated on the brink of a precipice, observing what's happening down in the valley. Wolves who turned around to communicate with accompanying animals would have been likely to topple off into the abyss. Only the eyes-straight-ahead animals would have survived. I can think of no other explanation. Besides, I've noticed that Fitzroy is fond of squatting on the brink of embankments at Gamone, and gazing straight ahead of himself while waiting for something to happen.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fitzroy's favorite positions

Fitzroy has developed the habit of sitting down at the top of the stairs, with his rump and hind legs on the landing, and his front paws on the first step.


Not only is it a comfortable position, but it allows my dog to meditate upon his next move, which will depend of course upon the next displacement of his master (me). Should Fitzroy scramble down to the ground floor? Or would he do better to remain on the upper floor, based upon the assumption that his master is merely visiting momentarily the second bedroom or the bathroom?

This photo reveals that everything in that vicinity is covered in a thick layer of white dust (which I've decided to ignore for the moment). The origins of that dust can be traced to the shiny metallic column seen behind Fitzroy in the following photo:


It's a tube of galvanized steel, 1.33 m long and 30 cm in diameter, incorporating an interior tube of stainless steel, 18 cm in diameter, which is the initial segment of a chimney for a future wood stove on the ground floor.


Here's a precise schema of the entire system that I'm building:

[Click to enlarge]

On the ground floor, I intend to install a French-manufactured Invicta Sedan 10 cast-iron wood stove (which I don't intend to purchase until the chimney system is completed):


The stove (poêle in French) will be placed on a step between the kitchen and the living room. For the passage of the stovepipe, 15 cm in diameter (shown in brown in my schema), I had to hack a hole in the massive slab of reinforced concrete (dalle in French), 20 cm thick, between the ground and the upper floor. Here's a poor-quality photo (looking up at the ground-floor ceiling) that shows the present state of the completed hole:


The verb "hack" is quite appropriate, as I was obliged to work blindly with an assortment of diamond disc grinders, drills, chisels and hammers. And that explains the presence in the house of all the white dust. When I say that I worked "blindly", what I mean is that I didn't know with certainty, in the beginning, how to avoid damaging any vital beams in the slab (such as the one on the right, with a red line traced on it). In other words, I was obliged to perform my hacking solely in the region occupied by hollow-core concrete planks (with the typical grainy texture that you can see in the above photo). The initial problem, of course, was that the layout of the beams and planks was concealed behind a layer of plaster, which I first had to chip away. Naturally, once the stove is correctly installed, I'll be able to tidy up the rough edges of my hacking... but it's too early to worry about such trivial aspects of my construction project.

In the schema, you can see that I've been obliged to introduce a twist in the chimney tubes at the level of the first floor, just before it ascends into the attic (grenier in French). That's because I encountered an unexpected obstacle when I pierced the suspended ceiling (faux plafond in French) above the first floor: a huge reinforced concrete beam, whose vital role consists of helping to hold in place the ancient stone walls of the house.

The tube seen in the above photos with Fitzroy is therefore the first of a series of 8 or 9 elements leading up to the final object in the system: an external roof chimney. I've already ordered this object from the same excellent French manufacturer who makes all the stovepipes and tubes: Poujoulat. Taking into account the inevitable delays due to tomorrow's Mayan end-of-the-world and the Christmas festivities, I would predict that my future wood stove should become operational at around the height of winter, some time in February. Up until then, I can rely, of course, on the good old open fireplace in the living room, whose major weakness is that it tends to warm only those parts of the body that are facing the flames, leaving you constantly with a chilly backside.

Talking of the fireplace, Fitzroy has developed another habit, which consists of waiting until I've lit up the fire and settled down in front of the flames with a good book, or to watch TV. Then, without asking for my opinion on the matter, Fitzroy scrambles up onto my knees and snuggles in for a warm snooze. If I try to push him back down onto the floor, my dog uses all the force of his powerful legs and claws to hang on tightly. So, I usually don't insist any further, preferring to take pleasure in Fitzroy's warm somnolent presence. He nevertheless becomes heavy after a while, and I have to guide carefully the mass of my sleeping dog back down onto the floor, where he sits upright, still half-asleep, with his head and paws supported by my knees and the tip of his backside poised on the floor. Finally, he wakes up completely, gets the message, and finds a new position outstretched on the floor. (Unfortunately, I can't supply readers with images of the delightful operations that I'm describing.)

Observers might say that I'm an excessively permissive master.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Construction work in progress

In my blog post of 23 September 2012 entitled Preparing winter wood [display], I said that I intended to stack up the newly-arrived pile of firewood in the usual place, under a corner of the roof in the north-west corner of the house. On second thoughts, I decided to leave most of this wood outside, so that I would have room to start erecting a concrete wall.


As of today, I've almost finished the part of the wall that incorporates reinforced concrete, and moved a small part of the firewood under the roof. I have to prevent surface water from attaining the area where the wood is to be kept, so I've installed an underground drainage system alongside the emerging wall, at the place in the following photo where you see freshly-dug earth.


Meanwhile, the rest of the firewood remains outside, protected from the rain and snow by a big green tarpaulin.


As I said in a recent blog post, I've started to erect a carport outside the north-west corner of the house (which is never reached by the winter sun). That explains the presence in the above photo of new roofing timber, which I brought here in my trailer.

A ramp was created in this area over two years ago.


After those earthworks, this corner of the house was totally bare, as you can see here:


In my blog post of 23 February 2010 entitled North-west corner of my house [display], I presented a project (created by means of Photoshop) for a carport at this place.


Today, the new earth in this area has been well compacted, and it's high time to go ahead with the construction. Here's a photo of the site that I took this morning:

[Click to enlarge]

As you can see, my project mock-up was wrongly-proportioned and rather off-target, since the carport roof in the mock-up was far too low. Here's another view of the site:


Except for the six vertical posts (Douglas-fir wood, treated in a vat in a sawmill at St-Marcellin), and the pale pine rafters at the top (seen lying on the green tarpaulin in an earlier photo), all the rest of the timber comes from an old green-painted wood shed that I built in this area soon after arriving at Gamone.


It was a fine structure, built of sturdy timber, which fitted ideally into the Gamone surroundings.


At that time, I had my first opportunity of getting accustomed to building on sloping ground. The shed was located just alongside the dirt track that used to lead up to a barn on the neighboring property (now replaced by a house). When major roadworks were carried out in order to create a smooth hairpin curve at this spot, I decided to demolish the old shed.


As you can see from the above photo, unless I removed the shed, it would have been impossible to envisage a car ramp leading up to the north-west corner of the house. So, sadly, I decided to knock down my charming construction.

These days, while I'm working on the carport, everything is being held in place by clamps.


Above the northern doorway into the house, a pair of steel brackets (almost a century old) has always intrigued me, and I still have no firm idea of their purpose.


I was able to use one of these mysterious brackets as a firm support to hold the posts in a rigid position up until such time as I insert all the necessary triangular ties to ensure the stability of the structure.

During my work, I'm being constantly observed by a conscientious ever-present foreman.


Exceptionally, the foreman's surveillance was interrupted briefly this morning when he took time off to consume a Kleenex that had dropped out of a pocket of my overalls.


But he's a friendly foreman, who rarely criticizes the quality of my work.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fitzroy in Sophia's basket

Up until recently, Fitzroy liked to tear apart everything in his vicinity, including cushions, baskets, mats, etc. Well, he seems to have become better behaved at that level. As of yesterday, when I dragged out Sophia's old wicker basket and put a cushion inside, Fitzroy suddenly realized that it might be a comfortable place to lie down, instead of a couple of nice objects to destroy. This afternoon, he even used the basket when I put it alongside his kennel.


I've been trying to prevent him, as far as possible, from venturing around in the paddock with the donkeys, because he comes back to the house covered in prickly burs, which I then have to remove with my fingers in a one-by-one manner. From time to time, in certain underlying regions where the layer of burs is thick, I resort to scissors. As for Fitzroy, he seems to enjoy all this attention, which he probably sees as grooming operations carried out kindly by the chief dog in the pack (that is, me).

THIS MORNING: Yesterday was quite cool. In the space of a week, we've gone from heat-wave conditions to chilly autumn weather. Last night, seeing Fitzroy dozing cozily, indeed angelically, in Sophia's basket on the warm kitchen floor, I didn't feel like putting him outside into his kennel. So, I closed the door between the kitchen and the living room (so that Fitzroy wouldn't decide to scramble upstairs and wake me up in the early hours of the morning), and left him to sleep there. Well, this morning, I discovered that it was no more than wishful thinking when I spoke about Fitzroy being better behaved in his relationship with easily-destructible objects. Back at the time of Sophia, Fitzroy had already started to destroy the basket and its cushions (which once belonged to an Ikea chair, which has had new cushions for a year now). This morning, inside and around the basket, there was a new crop of fragments of foam rubber. For this outside photo, I gathered up the fragments and placed them inside the aging basket.


My dear old Sophia is no longer there to deplore the damaged state of her cherished basket, which was impeccable before Fitzroy's arrival. So, it doesn't really matter if Fitzroy and the elements continue their inevitable process of destruction. And I'll continue to collect the bits and pieces of a morning.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hot dog

In our corner of France, this afternoon, it was exceptionally hot. Personally, the heat doesn't affect me greatly, but I nevertheless stay inside the house, where the temperature is cool. On the other hand, I noticed that Fitzroy was trying to escape from the heat, first by burrowing down into his favorite dust bowl alongside the house, and then by moving to a far corner of the cellar. So, I decided to set him up comfortably on a cushion beneath an electric fan.


He slept in that position for an hour or so (which suggests that he probably hadn't slept well during the previous hot night). Later on in the afternoon, I invited him to go out for a walk, but no sooner had I opened the door than we were hit by a gust of hot air. So we rushed back into the house again.

It's evening now, and everything has returned to normal. Fitzroy is dozing at my feet, beneath the computer.

There are journalists who claim that France might indeed be tasting, for the very first time, the effects of global warming... but no scientific statement has yet been made in this sense. On the other hand, there appears to be an intense nationwide effort by health services aimed at ensuring that seniors don't get knocked out by the heat. When I witness all this agitation here in France—for a few days with temperatures in the zone of 38 to 40 degrees—I often wonder retrospectively how this kind of problem was solved in my native Australia. Maybe it simply wasn't... Would anybody in our state government have bothered to look at the statistics of mortality in periods of extreme heat, to see whether the victims included an unusually large proportion of old people? Are statistics of this kind actually established today in Australia?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My dog is an esthete

There's no doubt that Fitzroy is a superior dog... quite apart from the trivial observation that he seems to have accepted me as his master.

Click to enlarge, then hit ESCAPE to return to the blog

His tail may be a bundle of prickly burrs, but Fitzroy's heart is soft and sweet, and his mind is as pure as icy water in the torrents of Risoul in the Hautes-Alpes département, up where he was born on 10 July 2010. He is lovable and constantly (urgently) in need of caresses. And furthermore, he has taste. Artistic taste. In a nutshell, Fitzroy is an esthete. Indeed, a connoisseur.

Fitzroy's specialty is driftwood. Now, this might sound funny in the case of a dog (and his master) who are settled in the mountains, hundreds of kilometers away from the seashore. But bits of wood don't need an ocean to drift. Just ask Fitzroy. He would tell you that beautiful bits of wood can drift on mountain streams, on ice and snow, maybe even (who knows?) in the air. In any case, telling us mountain-dwellers that we don't have driftwood would be like telling our new president François Hollande that he doesn't have Nicolas Sarkozy. Like, it's everywhere, ubiquitous. But Fitzroy selects only the finest specimens.


My dog would surely refer to such items as nocturnal objects, reflecting the fact that he collects them in the early hours of the morning, just before the sun rises. Like fairies gathering dewdrops. Every object collected by Fitzroy has a story, which only my dog could tell. Each story elucidates the context in which that object acquired its form, its colors, its character, or—as Fitzroy might say (I try to avoid putting words into his mouth)—its soul.

In the case of my dear departed Sophia, I always apprehended the day when she would suddenly shun food, for I knew that this repulsion would announce her end... as it did. Concerning Fitzroy, I would certainly be gravely worried about his state of health (both bodily and mental) if ever he dragged home an ugly item, devoid of magic charm, such as a hunk of plywood or plastic.

Seriously, the idea that my canine companion Fitzroy seems to express esthetic judgment is, to my mind, quite fabulous. It would be interesting to see how distinguished evolutionary biologists such as Richard Dawkins and P Z Myers might evaluate and possibly explain my claim. In a nutshell (forgive me my constant usage of this metaphor, due to my preoccupations as a walnut farmer):

What might have been the evolutionary advantage
of being a driftwood esthete?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

You can lead a dog to water...


... but you can't necessarily make him dive in and swim. The presence of Emmanuelle at Gamone made it feasible to coax Fitzroy into the car and take him down to the Bourne in the village of Choranche. During the excursion, my daughter's role consisted of making sure that our dog wouldn't jump up onto me when I was at the wheel.


If Fitzroy's head appears to be a little wet, that simply means that I had cupped up water in my hands and annointed him. For the moment, in spite of French successes at the Olympic Games, Fitzroy seems to be quite uninterested in swimming. We must not forget that he's a mountain dog, born in the Alpine village of Risoul 1850, at an altitude (as its name indicates) of 1850 meters. Fitzroy is capable of scaling an almost vertical embankment in a few bounds, but he's apparently uninterested in the idea of jumping into a stream in the valley.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Howling

Fitzroy doesn't usually make a lot of noise. When he's playing with Moshé and Fanette, he barks a lot in the hope of impressing the donkeys. Then he's no doubt dismayed to discover that his barking doesn't impress them at all. So, whenever he wants to startle the donkeys, Fitzroy adopts the surprise-arrival technique, which consists of creeping up on the drowsy animals, suddenly appearing from nowhere and leaping in front of them... which usually creates the desired effects. In general, whenever Fitzroy is confronted with any kind of unfamiliar phenomenon, he tends to sink onto his belly so that he can study the situation calmly at ground level. During this kind of observation phase (which Fitzroy even applies to me when I return to Gamone after a shopping excursion), the dog remains perfectly motionless. Then, when he has successfully analyzed the situation, he promptly wags his tail, while still laying flat on the ground, indicating that the meditation operations are terminated.


I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, besides his normal barking, Fitzroy is capable of producing a quite fabulous sound. He can howl like a wolf! But he only does this in special circumstances, when he has encountered an exceptional situation... such as the presence of roe deer, for example, on the slopes opposite the house. When he starts to howl, Fitzroy throws his head back, stretches his neck and seems to be gazing at the heavens. As for sound itself, it's blood-curdling (as they say in the classics), but particularly fascinating when you have the privilege of being just alongside the howling beast. Well, yesterday, finding that Fitzroy was emitting a halfhearted howl (I forget why), I decided to see if I could encourage him. So, I did my best to imitate Fitzroy imitating a wolf. Miracle, it worked. Fitzroy was thrilled to find his master howling like an aging wolf with laryngitis, and he promptly howled back at me. Every time I croaked out a feeble howl, Fitzroy responded like an opera star. But he soon lost interest in the game.

Today, I succeeded twice in getting him started again. Tomorrow I'll get together some kind of reward system, such as chunks of cheese. Maybe there's a future for us on the stage of a Riviera cabaret, or on TV. But the situation can be embarrassing whenever Fitzroy has decided that enough is enough. If a visitor were to drop in at Gamone at such a moment, and find me howling ridiculously in front of a silent dog, I might have some psychiatric questions to answer.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jungle excursion

On the slopes just above my house, the gully where Gamone Creek flows (when there's rain) is, at present, a dark and humid jungle. And that's where Sophia has always gone to do her business. Yesterday morning, I took this photo of her as she was emerging.

[Click to enlarge]

Fitzroy joined me, and we waited for Sophia to wander back up onto the road.


Instead of that, Sophia suddenly decided to stroll resolutely into the depths of the jungle, into a zone that is too steep for me to explore. It was only an hour or so later that she reemerged calmly, down at the corner where the road crosses over the creek. You can imagine that, during that hour, I had visions of my dog having wandered off into oblivion, to a place that I would never locate, meaning that I would never find traces of her. Worse than there, Gamone Creek was running violently in a series of cascades, and I feared that Sophia could get drowned. When she suddenly reappeared, and I led her back up to the house, I was like a disciple on the road to Emmaus.

I rewarded Sophia by subjecting her to a warm bath and a shampoo, to get rid of the muck that has been accumulating on her fur since she entered her disturbing state of food aversion... which continues, unfortunately. All I can say for the moment (as I know that many friends are concerned by her condition) is that Sophia spends most of her time sleeping on the warm kitchen floor, and that she does not appear to be unduly distressed. But she's living dangerously...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sophia's stayin' alive

Over the last week, Sophia has been avoiding all meat-based food including, above all, her customary croquettes. She's surviving on raw eggs, fragments of apple and bits of bread.


Last Friday, I described this situation to the veterinarian, who said that my dog's self-imposed diet was indeed unorthodox, but by no means catastrophic.

These days, since the weather has been warm and dry, I've been encouraging Sophia to spend her nights out on the lawn with Fitzroy, instead of on the kitchen floor (her customary bedroom). If she has an urgent need to urinate or defecate, being outside is convenient (rather than barking to wake me up in the middle of the night, to let her out). Well, when I got up yesterday morning, I was surprised to find that Sophia, for the first time ever, had apparently spent the night as a squatter in Fitzroy's kennel.


This unusual behavior alarmed me in that I couldn't help wondering whether Sophia was maybe searching instinctively for a place in which she might doze off into eternal sleep. Twenty minutes later, she emerged from the kennel, did her business up alongside her familiar track, and promptly took off in the wrong direction, sliding down the grassy slopes through the weeds, and ending up in a spot that was too steep for me to access. She continued her descent, guided by Fitzroy, until she reached the road. Then she decided that it would be a good idea to quench her thirst in the creek and to take a bath in a waterhole. I had to go out of my way to persuade her to stroll back up to the house.

Back home, Sophia chose to take a nap in another unusual setting: on a mound of rocky earth at the far end of the ancient cellar behind the house. Normally, she only goes there on exceptionally hot days... which was not the case yesterday. Later on, she decided to spend some time in the most unusual spot of all: a narrow tunnel dug into the hill behind the house, which I've always imagined as an ancient hiding-place back in the days when the prosperous vineyards of Choranche were often attacked by Protestant bandits. When Sophia emerged from the tunnel, I began to wonder whether my dear dog might be the victim of a sudden onslaught of senility. To rule out the possibility that she might wander off down the road in the early hours of the morning, I decided that it would be wise to attach her to Fitzroy's chain alongside the kennel. Meanwhile, I boarded up the entry to the tunnel.

Yesterday evening, I was so enthralled by a TV show that I didn't even realize that it was raining heavily. When I went outside, around midnight, Sophia had left the kennel and was lying down in the wet grass, totally soaked. I rushed the two dogs into the kitchen, put Sophia onto a cotton sheet to dry her out, and turned on the heating. There was a marvelous moment of complicity as Fitzroy started to lick Sophia's wet fur.

This morning, everything seems to have returned to normal... and Fitzroy is still watching over his old aunt. If the two animals appear to be wet, it's because they had just spent 20 minutes on the slopes, in the rain, while Sophia went about her business. With the rain and mud outside, and all the coming and going, the kitchen floor is like a pigpen... but I can't be worried about that. My only aim, in the immediate future, is to take care of Sophia as best I can.


Once again, Sophia downed three raw eggs for breakfast. I remain worried, of course, by the fact that she's unenthusiastic about any other food. Still I'm relieved that she never whimpers, and does not seem to be in pain. Curiously, her nose hasn't been running at all since yesterday... which might (or might not) be a positive sign.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dogs and stars

For the last two days, my memories have been dominated by images of Christine's dear dog Gamone. In the stark clarity of the death of a dog, I find a distilled paradigm of the tragic brevity of our human existence. I am shocked by the abrupt flight into nothingness of the simple beauty and nobility of the departed animal. It is a theme of immense melancholy, of celestial emptiness. And yet the cosmic messages of a dog's existence are no less real than those that emanate from us humans. Their existential photons end up hurtling towards the stars, just like ours. We're all on the same wavelength, as it were.


Sophia pursues her calm existence, apparently oblivious of the fact that her daughter Gamone has now been totally metamorphosed into a burst of something heading out towards the confines of the Cosmos. As you can see from this photo, Sophia looks quite slim and alert. In fact, in spite of her advanced age, she's in good shape. As for Fitzroy, he remains relatively earthbound for the moment, in the sense that he is capable of meditating deeply, for long periods of time, on the mysteries of a jet of water emerging from a hose.


But a canine philosopher is capable of interrupting his cogitations, maybe in the twilight zone of a warm spring evening, to go out hunting. The following morning, I admire the catch:


That's the first time I've ever seen a gray rat in the vicinity of the house. It's reassuring to know that Fitzroy can apparently find and destroy such a pest.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mondo cane

Sophia's primary wish, as she grows older, is to lead a peaceful and lazy (non-strenuous) existence... like all of us, you might say.


Whenever I happen to wander up the road on my own, to fetch water for the donkeys, Sophia gets upset and starts to bark. She wants to keep me in sight all the time (except, of course, if I go out in the car, which doesn't seem to bother her).

In the turd domain, Queen Sophia has become a little like the French "Sun King" Louis XIV at Versailles, who apparently had the habit of sitting on the royal chamber pot every morning, and doing his business, in the company of selected members of his court. My dog Sophia expects Fitzroy and me to accompany her to a precise place on the slopes, 50 meters beyond the house, and to wait there until not the least fragment of a turd remains to be ejected from her anal tract. I'm always amused by the way in which Sophia, up until the latter question has received a definitive answer, continues to beat around the bush, coming and going, hesitating, and turning in circles. It's clearly a fundamental matter of making a good decision.

Fitzroy now accepts the principle of being chained up for certain periods during the day (in the middle of the morning or afternoon, for example, after having eaten), to remove the temptation of setting out on exploratory expeditions along the roads, no doubt in pursuit of magic female odors. He doesn't seem to be traumatized by this necessity, as he comes readily when I call him to be attached to the chain.


During the night, he's totally free to do as he pleases. And one of the activities that pleases Fitzroy immensely is the destruction of colored plastic objects.


It goes without saying that I'm not happy to see the nozzle of a hose subjected to this treatment. But how can I possibly explain to my dog that I need those plastic objects for several good reasons? Just imagine if a grass fire broke out, and I suddenly found my hose nozzle in that state. Fitzroy, of course, would never worry about such things as grass fires. On the other hand, he has always been infatuated by water hoses.

We humans see the Large Hadron Collider and its beams of particles, beneath the Franco-Swiss border, as an extraordinary tool capable of maybe providing answers to some of the basic mysteries of our existence. Fitzroy seems to see the jet of water emerging from a hose with a similar degree of awe. Even if it means getting soaked for the nth time, Fitzroy would like to break through this mystery, and get to the bottom (or maybe rather the top) of it all.


My dog performs astonishing jumps of well over a meter into the air. I tried to manipulate the hose and take photos of Fitzroy's spectacular jumps at the same time, but my images cannot possibly hope to convey the intellectual rage of my dear dog.


A jet of water emerging from a hose looks like a tangible thing... and yet it seems to evaporate into thin wet air as soon as you attempt to grasp it. Maybe it's a matter of adjusting one's angle of attack, even in mid-air.


Fitzroy's determination to solve this problem knows no bounds... apart from his own, which are truly superb.


I would never dare attempt to explain to my dog the curious physical nature of liquids, because he has clearly discovered these mysteries all on his own. I prefer to leave Fitzroy with his permanent determination to catch the Snark one of these days. Others might wait for Godot. Meanwhile, Fitzroy jumps.