Life In Progress

I will not confuse my career with my life.


Tooth Fairy

Just the thought of having a dental procedure conjures vivid images of sweaty fingers plucking at damp, shredded Kleenex and jaws wrenched open in a hideous rictus of terror. The sight of shiny, sterilized (I feverishly hope!) metal instruments, lined up with a watchmaker’s precision on a tray instantly evokes a sheen of perspiration on my forehead.

The tools that inspire dread? The Carbide Ball Burr. The Diamond Bud Burr. The Cylinder Reamer. The fact that modern dental care is virtually painless does not lessen my panic when I ponder the fine dust of tooth enamel — floating on the air rising from my open mouth — created by one of those gleaming tools rotating at the speed of light. [Insert prolonged, full-body shudder here.] Even the seemingly innocent routine dental cleaning entails a fascinatingly slender, curved stainless steel probe called The Explorer.

My dread of all things dental began with my first filling: I was around 7 or 8 years old and my left eye-tooth had a cavity. I protested, to put it mildly, when the dentist drilled into my tooth without benefit of Novocaine. He said to me, “Don’t be such a baby!” The dentist I saw during my teen years pulled my mother aside at one point and suggested to her that I was obsessed with my teeth. (Duh.) This, after having performed an “occlusal adjustment,” again, without the benefit of Novocaine, on my sensitive teeth. (Google “occlusal adjustment” and see if you don’t cringe!)

Fast forward through a menu of various dental nachtmares to this morning — the first fillings with my new dentist. The fact that she bears a remarkable resemblance to the actress Holly Hunter was an effective distraction. That, and a massive overdose of Bach’s Rescue Remedy lulled me into a compliant state. I clutched a handful of Kleenex, squeezed shut my eyes and she began. She was finished injecting Novocaine before I even knew she was doing it! The Tooth Fairy favored me throughout the procedure and I practically sailed through the drilling and filling.

I won’t say my appointment was entirely without discomfort. But I have been through much worse with far less-attractive dentists.

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Who’s Your Daddy?

Fixated on spiders as I seem to be this summer, they are also decidedly creeping me out. Everywhere I look I see a fluttering moth or some unfortunate beautiful turquoise damselfly struggling to escape a sticky web. Sometimes I try to save the damselflies. Yesterday, my eye got caught just in time to see a spider lunge, pounce and efficiently dispatch the pretty white moth caught up in her web. Drama on this small scale is still drama.

I keep checking the rosemary plant pot saucer, trying to catch a glimpse of the iridescent spider who lives on the front porch, but she’s got two sort of cocoons spun and recently just her shadow is visible in the smaller of them. This is the gal I can’t get out of my mind. I shiver as I imagine these cocoons sheltering dozens of tiny, shiny-eyed predators with iridescent green mandibles. Since I don’t see her much anymore, I have begun to zero in on a spider who keeps adding to a big web in the east corner of the porch. Even though the photo is not crisp, you can see filament jetting from the spinnerets in this shot. It’s a busy web with lots of debris clinging along with dangling mummified insects. I’m sure to be back to that one to watch for gruesome action.

Daddy Long Legs don’t freak me out like their shorter-legged cousins. Maybe because I once read that even though they are technically arachnids, they really aren’t the same as spiders: They don’t spin silk and they can’t bite humans. I snapped the small Daddy pictured above while it rested on top of an echinacea flower bud. The proximity of the camera lens startled him, but he posed just long enough for me to focus in on his way down the stalk.

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Garden Shark

The quartz eating machine glides amongst the Siberian Iris, which by now are long past blooming. Still, they afford essential camouflage for this crafty predator. His destination: the beautiful ceramic toad house Mom Jane sent a couple of weeks ago. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing living in the earthenware abode, but Garden Shark has a sharp nose and a taste for amphibian this evening.

I would go outside with my camera right now to snap a photo or maybe even a video of the rustling iris leaves (fragrant fodder for fellow cryptozoologists,) except I’m afraid of the bulbous she-spider who’s nightly been spinning a web between a corner of the house and the day lilies blooming across the walkway. Thankfully, Will has to traverse that path to feed the birds tomorrow morning and will blithely blaze the way.

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The Fuzz

Encouraged by the fact that I did not get stung when I photographed the hornet, I had the courage to get up close to this spider living in the saucer of a potted rosemary plant on my porch. Brilliantly aware of my fascination, she constantly keeps her face toward me, watching me as I watch her moving about her abode.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll set up the tripod and see if I can get some full body shots as she scuttles about in the saucer. She seems most active when the sun is not directly warming the terra cotta. I resist the shivery thought that crossed my mind just now: going out at night to watch her work. Brrrr.

Although her mandibles appear extremely formidable, especially with the enticing areas of flashing shimmery green iridescence, her eyes are not nearly as calculating as they appear here. That said, I will definitely remember to check around for her the next time the rosemary needs to be moved from that table…


The Buzz

Nothing says “Welcome!” better than a bald-faced hornet’s nest hanging over the bistro set on the front porch. “Pull up a chair! What can I get you?” I’ll say to my guests. “How about a scrabble game at the table here?”

Well, maybe the huge spider that spun a big web right over the storm door takes the prize for most welcoming. At least with the hornets, if you don’t bother them by stomping around or batting the papery nest with a stick, they shouldn’t bother you. The spider? When you approached the door, she’d start doing push ups on the web as a warning that she could jump! “Welcome! Step right up to the front door. Don’t mind Charlotte, she hasn’t bitten anyone. Yet.”

When I researched bald-faced hornets, I paled at the description of their life cycle. A nearly two-inch-long black and white queen emerges from hibernating underground in the spring. The beautiful, alien creature then sets about chewing and digesting wood only to spit it back up to fashion a durable, spherical nest fiber by fiber. I was fascinated to watch her progress on the bare wood of the porch ceiling. But not so fascinated to let her continue for long; I scraped off her two earliest attempts. When she came back a third time, I half-reluctantly allowed her to continue.

I learned that the queen will first lay a cadre of worker hornets which will slave away while she stays inside and rests. There can be thousands of these workers by the time she lays other queen eggs. These newborn queens will then go underground in the fall to overwinter and start the cycle for themselves next spring.

Later that day, after I’d read up a bit more online about our newest buzz, I went back out to check on her progress. I was shocked to see that the nest was already between baseball- and softball-size.

Being the wuss that I am, I asked my husband, Will, to knock the nest down. I think I was lucky she was so busy gathering wood fibers for nest making, allowing me get a few closeup photos of her. She hasn’t made a fourth attempt to nest on the ceiling of the front porch. I admit to a twinge of guilt about dislodging her but it’s early enough in the process that she can find a more suitable location. And I know in my wussy heart that this relationship most likely would not have ended well…


Drunken sailors

I feel so guilty. I gave a dinner party at which all the guests were intentionally doomed. Over the years, I’ve developed into a capture-and-release type of person where bugs in the house are concerned. Except in the case of ants. (And ticks. But that’s another, more gruesome story.)

We’ve been here 26 years and this happens every year. The ants start marching one-by-one into the kitchen sink area on the windowsill and onto the counter. Just a few at first, but, oh, bloody hell — here we go again!

They’re a bit early this spring. Usually, they wander in around peony blooming time. The first year we were in this house, I naively placed a couple of gorgeous peony blossoms into a vase on the windowsill above the sink. The flowers smelled wonderful and were uplifting to look at while washing up supper dishes. To my acute horror, the next morning the sill, counter and flowers were crawling with tiny, creepy ants.

I’m ashamed to confess that my 26-year-younger self ran out to get a big can of bug spray. I treated the sill and poisoned the ants (and us!) but it didn’t stop the invasion. The assault subsided gradually and aside from the singular, deathly scent of Raid, I forgot all about the problem. Until the next year. This continued for a couple of years until somebody suggested baiting with sugar water and boric acid. Actually draw the ants in? Yes. Belly up to the gooey sweetness like drunken sailors at a bar while on shore leave.

This is day three of onslaught 27. The baiting obviously doesn’t exterminate them entirely. Either that or new, opportunistic colonies move in every year to fill the void. Two days ago, I mixed simple syrup with boric acid powder and drizzled the sticky solution along the counter, behind the faucet and onto commercial ant traps (which they ignored until I dotted the traps with sugar.) The past 24 hours have been desensitizing. I no longer cringe to see clouds of black, shiny creatures all over the counter. Dozens of ants lined up at every drizzle and drop. This morning there were noticeably fewer of them. An encouraging trend. When they’re gone, I’ll scald and scrub the counter and windowsill.

And apologize to the little beings for causing their demise.


Right side of the road

He’s an ornery looking guy. Grey hair, furrowed brow, maybe late 60s. White earbuds tucked stubbornly into his ears, the common LL Bean jacket and knit watch cap are his uniform. He appears to be muttering to himself as I peer at him from under the brim of my hat. I’m heading directly toward him. He’s on “my” side of the trail.

Ah, I think: another game of Trail Chicken. One day last summer, a woman and her leashed pup were walking toward me on “my” side of the 8′ wide pavement. We both had our heads down, were lost in our own thoughts. When were about to collide, I suddenly became aware of her and I leaped to my left. We smiled at each other as we passed and I danced back to the right, reclaiming my rightful lane. Well, now that was a bit awkward. Maybe she’s British and used to traveling on the left side of the road. Maybe she was training her dog. Could she be sight impaired? No, she looked me in the eyes.

The remainder of my two-mile walk that morning was consumed not with being in the moment, nature along the trail or enjoying the fresh air, but with the curious existance of the convention of walking, riding or driving on the right side of the path. Or more exactly, with what happens when that agreement is disregarded. Because of the smile we shared and my crazy “Whoops!”  as I veered around her, the brush with this person was lighthearted and comical. The encounter with Mr. Earbuds left me scratching my head.

We spied each other on that common vector from many yards. I wondered when he was going to realize he was on “my” side and switch back to “his” side. Every few steps I glanced up. Yep, still coming. Still muttering. As we neared, I could hear his voice. Closer, I could hear what he was saying. “Is she gonna move? I don’t think so. She gonna go??? Not yet…. There she goes. Good girl!” That muttering, was he betting with himself whether I would yield? Amazing. I laughed and said to him, “You didn’t know if I was going to move, did you?” The guy tossed his head at me, conveying he’d put me in my place! I felt like stamping my foot and shouldering him, claiming my space. Of course, I didn’t. I walked on. But not after tossing off my own editorial snort in his general direction.

For a few minutes my thoughts were tinged red. I was not curious or compassionate about this guy’s story. I was pissed. He might as well have shoved me like I wanted to shove him back. That toss of the head he gave me was downright rude! I was blind to the frosted leaves beside the pavement. The chilly morning air moved in and out of my lungs without the usual deliciousness. As I neared my turn-around point, I realized his problem wasn’t about me. I could have been anybody and he’d probably have done the same thing. Well, maybe not if I’d been a tall male capable of intimidating him to sweep out of the way…

There was no encounter on the flip side. Mr. Earbuds was nowhere to be seen on the mile back home.

But I did see him again this morning. He was just entering the trail as I stepped out of the breezeway. Ah ha! I walked down the driveway and entered the path. He was about a tenth of a mile ahead of me. I gauged my gate to keep my distance, not close enough to hear if he was muttering. He was traveling on the left side of the trail! I switched over to see how it felt to be a trail scofflaw. I kind of liked it. About a half-mile later, he meandered toward the middle of the trail. Lingered there for a few dozen steps. Then, by God, he angled over to the right and walked on the right side. A woman and her dog were coming toward him and he’d done the conventional thing and allowed them to pass without confrontation! I was beginning to look forward to his turning around to go back and getting my chance to claim my horizontal personal space (stupid, stupid, I know.) When he reached my usual half-way turning spot, he looked both ways, crossed the road and continued onto the next leg of the paved trail. I rounded the bollards, tossed my head and took a deep, intentional breath of relief.  Anticlimactic, but the best all-around outcome for the situation.

If I see him tomorrow, I might have to move over to avoid him again, but I’ll be walking on the right side.