Saturday, May 23, 2009

By the Ole Watering Hole

Summer is here. Stay hydrated everybody! Have a good holiday weekend. --z

Photos taken Monday, May 18, 2009. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Crazy Guy

I know that Dog Park is a No Dumping Zone, but Crazy Guy is back. So I've got to say something. Crazy Guy is like quarterly taxes. You know they're coming up, and you just grit your teeth and figure out how to make the payment. Both are inevitable and annoying, but taxes are rarely dangerous. Crazy guy might be. During his latest appearance, he threatened to shoot dogs with a pistol. His imaginary pistol? Witnesses say he didn't appear to be packing. Did he expect the dogs and their owners to hang around while he went inside and got it?  There are many unanswered questions about Crazy Guy. For example, is he genuinely dangerous or just a jerk? Therein lies the tension at Dog Park.

For those who don't know, Crazy Guy resides in the last house on the north side of the park, the last house on 45th Street before you get to the Shoal Creek Bridge. His is the only yard that does not have fencing around the back. Occasionally dogs have run through CG's back yard and on to 45th Street. There have been a few fatalities. Crazy Guy insists that his mission is to save drivers' lives and cars by yelling at us about unleashed dogs. He's a middle-aged guy who claims to have enough money to buy the Park. He rides a motorcycle and claims to be a gun owner. This is Texas. I don't doubt he owns a gun, but is he a decent shot?

I first encountered Crazy Guy a couple of years ago. He was riding his motorcycle around the Park proselytizing about leashing the dogs. (Yelling at people is not illegal, but I'm sure that motorized vehicles are not allowed in the Park. Raising this issue with him led to a tit-for-tat argument about whose sin is worse: the one committed by the unleashed dog walkers or the one by the guy riding an authorized vehicle on state land in order to Save the World.) His story, laughably implausible, went something like this: "I have had to scrape 20 dead dogs out of the street in front of my house. It's no party when I have to call sorority girls and tell them that their dogs are dead. When are you people going to straighten up? Dogs are dying!" Sorority girls? A dozen dogs? What is he talking about? We blew him off. When he drove the bike back to his yard, he led pack of  excited dogs into his yard and perilously near the street. Thanks, Crazy Guy. Was his plan to lure all the unleashed dogs onto 45th Street at rush hour just to prove his point? Again, devious or bone-headed but lucky?

My more recent encounter with Crazy Guy is mostly unprintable. If I'd been smart, I'd have just kept my mouth shut and kept walking. My dogs weren't anywhere near him or his place. But I used impolite language, which forced him to get on his motorcycle and chase me up the trail so he could teach me a lesson. (His exact words were, "If you ever use language like that again, young lady . . .") Crazy Guy is not a small man, but his bike is surprisingly girly. It's a Honda, not a Harley. And it's a lovely shade of aqua. Maybe that's why I was not really afraid. I told him to leave us alone, that walking unleashed dogs was pretty much a victimless crime. He told me that I was stupid and that I was risking the lives of innocent drivers everywhere. Then he pulled out his phone and called the police. I did not hang around to hear his plea. Could it have been "Help me. A tiny, angry woman is saying mean things to me." Then he rolled away. 

He'd been out of the picture for about five months when he surfaced again this week. Two of the Park's friendliest dogs, Ellie and Lolo, approached him, which is what set him off. (He told their owners that one of his neighbors had contracted rabies from a bite received in the Park. Idiot. All the Parkers know this story, and Crazy Guy has it all wrong. The man was bitten by dog that was on a leash. The bitten man did not think to ask the owner to stop and help him. No one knows the dog or the woman, based on the man's vague descriptions. The man has voluntarily undergone rabies treatment because the owner could not be contacted about the dog's vaccinations.) Lolo and Ellie's owners, both women, called their dogs, did not address Crazy Guy, and fled. Crazy Guy apparently did not call Animal Control or the police this time. Apparently, he has to feel physically threatened by women before he does. 

As several people have pointed out, it's always something lately at the Dog Park. If it's not Animal Control or strangers letting their dogs bite neighbors or people not picking up their dog's poop or spear grass and burs or snakes or bad weather, it's Crazy Guy. There are times when Dog Park feels less like a refuge than just one more place where we have to deal with other people's crazy shit. It is frustrating to have to negotiate with rude and/or nutty people when all you want to do is let the dogs run and forget your cares for an hour. Sometimes the crazies intrude. We just need to stay calm, refrain from using expletives, and avoid Crazy Guy's corner of the Park for a few days, but definitely keep walking. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dog is My Leader

As I was walking the dogs around the neighborhood yesterday morning, I remembered hearing a scientist talking to NPR about the way the human nervous system registers sensations. The scientist said that if he were to touch the reporter's nose and toe at exactly the same moment, the reporter's brain would receive the signals simultaneously—even though the signal from the toe takes longer to reach the brain than the signal from the nose. The brain, the scientist said, knows to delay the signal from the nose until the signal from the toe is almost to the brain. I don't remember how the brain knows to do this, but the point that the scientist and the reporter dwelled on was that everything we experience in the world—our perception of it—is slightly after the fact. Because of the tiniest of lags between the instant something happens and the moment our brains process it, we are constantly living in the past. 

So my question is, do our dogs live slightly ahead of us in time? Most dogs are smaller than humans, and the circuitry of their nervous systems is probably shorter than ours, too. Plus, they have their super senses—they can smell, hear, and (compared to me) see much better. I know that my dogs perceive things way before I do. Even Roma, who is mostly deaf and whose eyes are creamy with cataracts, knows to bark at a stranger passing our house—someone she can't hear or see but probably can smell. I always have to go to the door and say, "What are you barking . . . ? Oh." And Muzzy, who interprets my every gasp of surprise as "Get that squirrel!" bounds toward the back door before I even finish making the sound while watching movies in the living room. 

How much farther ahead in time and space are our dogs? What do they know and when do they know it? A second? A tenth of a second? A millisecond before we do? I guess I should just resign myself to the prospect of always being the last to know what's going on and instead bask in my state of obliviousness. Waiting a microsecond or two before discovering what stinky, gross thing the dogs are rolling in is, in its way, a moment of blissful ignorance.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Moo or Phew?

This, my friends, is a Buffalo Gourd plant. It's also called a Stink Gourd. I've seen these things growing all over the Park. They sprawl on the ground and sport large yellow flowers that turn into round, green fruit. I had always assumed that the plants were zucchini or other squash plants that had been transplanted by birds and cross-pollenated with something weird. But no, they are their own entity. Again, this one grows off the trail in a spot that is rarely mowed. The blooms had just shriveled, as you can see.

I was surprised to discover that the plants are called Stink Gourds. I have never noticed any smell. Nor did the authors of my wildflower handbook, Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller. Here's what they say, "The plant supposedly gets the name 'stink gourd' from its foul odor, but we handled the fruit and dissected the blossoms without noticing any unpleasant odor." Probably some mean elementary-school kid gave the gourd a sucky name that stuck. 

Where I grew up in New Jersey, we had a weed called Skunk Cabbage, and it really did smell like its namesake. It grew prolifically. What you did was pull it out of the ground and then break its stem, releasing the skunky juices. Then you chased around the kid who was beneath you in the social pecking order. Heh. Also, we had a plant called a Mayapple. It was only about 6 inches tall, but it produced many small, hard, green, apple-shaped fruits that were excellent bruise-making projectiles. I lacked decent eye-hand coordination, so I got pelted pretty regularly, unable to fight back. Snowball fights were a similar situation. So if I see anyone coming after me with a stink gourd, I am so out of here. 

Quotation from Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide (1994, UT Press), p. 90.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Another Plant Pest (Gesundheit!)

Many people are allergic to Ragweed. This plant is Pig Weed, and it also makes people sneeze. According to, Pig Weed is one of the top producers of allergy-causing pollen in our part of the world. Pig Weed is also toxic to animals, but I have never seen a dog take interest in it. Pigs eat it though, and that must be how it got its name. (I saw a nasty photo of a shiny, disfigured, and mottled pig's liver. Ugh. Now I don't need breakfast.) 

As usual, I found this plant on the less travelled and less-often mowed southeast strip. If the mowers come through regularly this summer, the plant ought not to cause any trouble in the bigger fields. Of course, there are so many allergens in the Austin air, molds not the least of them, we may not even notice the Pig Weed.  

A quick survey of a site called tells us that there are more than a dozen kinds of Pigweed, and that the plant is a Central Texas native. Also, it can grow up to 28 feet tall! Some of the Pig Weeds have lovely names, such as Love-Lies-Bleeding, Careless weed, Rough-Fruit, and Tumbleweed. Even the plant's family name sounds like a character from Shakespeare: Amaranth. (According to my wildflower handbook, only one member of the Amaranth family qualifies as a wildflower rather than a weed. It is the Slender Snakecotton—another nice name—but it only grows in West Texas. Sorry.) 

See you round the D.P.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Another Dog Park (Plant) Pest

It has a lovely, dignified name—Queen Anne's Lace. It's also called Wild Carrot. But it is the source of an annoying little bur that experts call Beggars Lice. Each of the little white flowers will eventually turn into a hard, fuzzy, rice-shaped bur that will attach itself to you, your clothes, and your dog's fur and collar. The burs usually form in June. 

The plants shown above—notice how they cozy up to the poison ivy in the lower right-hand corner—are growing along the creek-side path, right under the Live Oak with the abandoned treehouse. In previous years, this plant grew everywhere in Dog Park. Matt (Jigs and Ollie) started a one-man eradication program; he literally pulled up by hand every plant that grew in the south field of the Park. The year before that, the state agency had stopped mowing the Dog Park fields, and the entire park was overgrown with Wild Carrot. That summer, I was taking care of a Chow Chow named Zedra while her owner was in the hospital. Zedra was an undisciplined and devious dog, even a little masochistic. She spent much of her time with Roma and me plotting Roma's overthrow as alpha dog in our household. (I did not think it was comical at the time, but looking back, I see that it was like Daffy Duck trying to unseat Bugs Bunny as the most beloved Warner Bros. cartoon character. "Duck season!" "Rabbit season!" "Rabbit season!" "Duck season!" Blam! When I returned from taking Zedra back to her owner, Roma turned her back to me. Her thought balloon read, "You need to think about what you have done!") Anyway, Zedra discovered that I would have to spend an inordinate amount of time with her if she hurled herself into the beggars lice at Dog Park. Her fine, silky Chow fur was a magnet for the burs. As a result, I would have to spend 45 minutes every evening picking them out—and it was no picnic for her because the burs snagged and caught the brushes and combs I used. Several times I had to take scissors and snip out chunks of bur-encrusted fur. She looked a little lopsided when I returned her to her owner a month later. 

The upside is that beggars lice, unlike spear grass or sand burs (I saw a plant with ripe, juicy ones the other day), do not maim or pierce the skin. They just suck. 


Sunday, May 17, 2009