Monday, March 31, 2014

Betty in the Wild: Namibia

Home again, home again, jiggety jig:

It was almost Hallowe'en when I got back from my trip 'round the USA, so Cobweb Morning seemed appropriate.

And then we're off to Africa!  Just like Hugo!  Except the minor difference that where he spent months establishing a feeding center for starving children, I spent two weeks at a 20-year old preserve feeding well-cared for cheetahs.  It's the Cheetah Conservation Fund, should you be interested, and gets five stars for food (plenty of stodge!), accommodation (shared rondavel, check for snakes before heading down the gravel path to the bathroom), fun activities (dog walking, donkey care (okay, they were dead and I was feeding them to cheetahs, but they're still donkeys), brisk walks, peering through microscopes, etc.).

Plus:  TWO DUTCH INTERNS!!  Both definite charming younger sister types; no snooty Juffrouws here.

Every home has its big water tank - well, every white person's home - fed by a well.  The rainy seasons have been slack just lately.

Mariske goes to university in Friesland, though is not Fries.  Note hungry cheetahs feeding in background.

Marianne (MAH ree ahn ah) also at univ in Friesland; also not Fries.  I would tweeze hairs from cheetah poo for her, and she would peer at them through her microscope to determine what the cheetah had been eating.

Thorn bush with yummy little orange fruits.
Beautiful and industrious weaver bird building its Christmas-ornament-like nest.

And with this focus you can actually see the bird and nest.

Daisy did not join me when I spent a half-day, or 12 hours, in a tiny brick blind with a handsome English intern.  I am only about 30 years older than he, but still felt no need of competition.

Tom, looking for warthogs.

Our visitors at the waterhole included:

Lots of zebra

Many eland

two giraffes and dozens of warthogs.
a few guinea fowl
Lots of kudu (female; males have horns).
Several oryx
Seriously, enough warthogs that I was starting to have uncharitable thoughts about them, expressed in a hiss thusly to Tom:  "Can't we just start shooting them?"  And a single red hartebeest.
I went on safari, for less than 48 hours, and no time for messing about with books.  I had a mind to be blown and photos to take!

Blue wildebeest, or gnu.
Ostriches in quantity.

Elephants, including this charming family

A charming lion family.
And a charming couple intent on beginning a family, if you know what I mean.  Knowing this is a Brighton-free zone, I chose one of the less-racy photos for you.
Herds of springbok, and oh so much more.  Etosha National Park, and I can get you the name of the guide and guide service if you like.

Back at the ranch,

The male hornbill was still feeding his mate, still in her nest.
The logistics of trying to rescue these guys befuddled me incalculably.  Calling Dr. van Zeust!
Also, must confess I love the kitties, and the kitties appreciate a bit of dark-red meat.

That's why the CCF trains livestock-guarding dogs like Taya, who lives amongst goats to protect them from predators.  American Ben and Mariske are cleaning up goat poo, while I down rake for a moment to record the scene.
Of course, if a poor little steenbok wanders past a cheetah...

Unless it's one of these 'human-habituated' cubs, who just like to wrestle each other.

Good bye, Namibia.  Thank you!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Huge Roses: Chapter Two, part two.

In chapter one, American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist.  After a lovely weekend that includes meeting the doctor's mother at the Concergebouw thanks to tickets provided by the doctor, Tory returns home to the United States.  In chapter two, an early snowstorm hits on Hallowe'en night, and Tory is surprised that the car that goes off the road near her house (what a coincidence!) contains Max van den Nie.

For installment one, look here.  Installment two is right here, and installment three here.

THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission

Chapter Two, part 2

A thick, oversized sweater over her flannel pajamas, sturdy, fleece-lined boots on her feet, and her brother’s battered old ski parka topping the lot, Tory tromped to the front door.  Just a few yards down the street, she saw a shiny new Mercedes – a big one – angled awkwardly into the ditch that bordered the street.  Covered in snow, the sharp drop-off was impossible to see.  With Jennet and Hal floundering happily ahead of her, she made her way to the car to offer assistance.  The driver had already emerged to inspect the situation, and with a shock she recognized the blond giant she had met weeks before in Amsterdam!
Before she could call a greeting, the dogs began their own, barking and leaping clumsily through the foot-deep snow.  “Good mor – Hal!  Jennet!  Quiet!” Tory shouted.  “Come back here!”  But her ill-mannered companions had already reached their target.
“Not to worry, please,” Dr. van den Nie called.  “I like dogs.”  As he fondled first one and then the other, rubbing behind their ears in the magical dog spot, the animals showed they clearly liked him, too.  Jennet leaned bonelessly against him, enjoying the patting, while the impatient Hal butted his new friend’s legs, flattened himself in the snow with tail wagging, turned a quick circle, and barked encouragingly for attention.
“I am so sorry,” Tory said, catching up.  “You would think they’d never been out in public before.  And I’m sorry you’ve run into trouble with your car.  The road drops off sharply at the edges.  I’ll try to help you get it out if you like, but those are rear-wheel drive, aren’t they?  I bet it will need towing.  If you’d like to phone from my house, you’re very welcome to stop here until a truck can make it out.  Oh,” she paused, suddenly self-conscious.  “I don’t know if you’ll remember me.  I was in Amsterdam earlier in the month, when you helped an English tourist with a broken leg.”
“Indeed I do remember you,” the doctor answered, “and I’m delighted to see you here.  Miss Bird, isn’t it?  Or Nurse Bird.  You make a regular habit of turning up just in the hour of need, it seems.”
“Oh, yes.  Right.  I mean, not really.  And it was last month, since today’s November.”  Tory stopped her dithering speech and took a deliberate breath, then started over.  “Please, do call me Tory.  We’re much less formal with names here than people in the Netherlands.”
“Then I shall be Max,” he answered, holding out an elegantly gloved hand.  “Max van den Nie is the full-length version.  I do think you’re very right that recovering my car will require more than you and I can accomplish together.  If you’re quite sure, I’m pleased to accept your invitation for shelter.  It will be very welcome.”
Tory felt her cheeks warm as they shook hands, and hoped to goodness she wasn’t blushing – but knew she probably was.  She could only hope Max would put her reddened cheeks down to the cold air, and turned to lead the way back to the house.  He followed, having grabbed a small case from the abandoned vehicle.  “Well, here’s the house, and of course I’m sure you’re welcome.  We New Englanders are proud of our hospitality, you know.  And you’re hardly dressed for a tromp through the snow.”
“I’m not equipped for a drive through the snow, either,” he responded.  “I ought to have pulled off when I encountered it, but the highway was well cleared, and after a long flight the thought of getting to a comfortable home was too tempting.  If I had known of the conditions when I arrived in Boston, I might have stayed there.”
“My sister’s in Boston, and they hardly ever get snow when we do,” Tory commiserated.  “Have you just come from Amsterdam?  And are you staying here in Bristol?  We’re not really on the way to much of anywhere.”
Max laughed.  “Do you know an orthopedist named Josh Brown?  I’m to stay at his house for a few weeks and take on some of his practice while he recovers from a complex ankle break.”
“Oh, yes, I know Josh.  He lives just a few miles from us, and since I work for the local family doctor, I get to know pretty much everyone in town.  It’s a small place, anyway, and I have a brother and sister who’ve needed orthopedic assistance more than a few times.  But how do you know him?”
“We met at a medical conference several years ago, and have stayed in touch.  I’m working with him and a few others at the hospital here on some ideas to help athletes return to full participation in sport after accidents.  As much as we get done via e-mail and file sharing, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to spend some time at the research center here.  Poor Josh’s accident offered an excuse.”
“I saw Sheila – his wife – a week or so ago,” Tory offered, pushing open the front door and gesturing a welcome, “and she told me he’s been a miserable patient, but everyone at the clinic is too afraid of him to make him behave.  Apparently he’s so embarrassed about crashing his bike that he’s trying to make a super-fast recovery.”
“Yes, that sounds quite right.  In fact, he was trying to jump rope on his one good leg recently, and set his recovery back quite a bit jostling his cast.  So Sheila is forcibly removing him from the center and taking him to a facility in Maryland, where the staff can treat him like any other patient.  It is humbling sometimes to see how very imprudent many in my profession can be when we’re in our patients’ place.  I often see colleagues doing things in recovery that they would condemn in the people they care for.”
“The surgeon’s god complex carrying over from the operating room,” Tory laughed, then stopped abruptly.  “I’m sorry, I hope that didn’t sound rude.  I always think you do so much good, and sometimes so dramatically, that you have a right to a complex – especially with open heart and organ transplants and that kind of thing.”  She stammered to a halt.
“Goodness, Tory, you’re welcome to say what you like.  I expect you were joking, and in any case, you should, indeed, speak up if you see someone suffering delusions of grandeur.  That can be plain dangerous in operating theater or examining room.  But how solemn I am!  Please extend some more of your New England generosity and believe I’m not deliberately being pompous!”
“Of course not,” she chuckled.  “You set a great example of generosity.  Here, let me take your coat.  I can hang it by the stove so it drips onto the hearth, and I guess you’d better take off your shoes.  Do you have a change in your bag?”
“My track shoes – or runners?  No, what do you call athletic shoes?”
“Sneakers, sometimes, or running shoes, tennis shoes, that kind of thing.  You’ve got a bit of an accent that seems more English than Dutch to me.  Did you learn to speak English in England?”
“Partly that,” he answered, “but I learned your language in Holland from the time I was quite young, with the help of my English grandmother and that lovely, old-fashioned tradition, an English nanny.  My native languages are Dutch and Fries – and both of those are so difficult that few people outside our country learn them.  So, as you probably know, most of us learn at least one or two other languages from childhood.”
“What’s Fries?” Tory asked, adding quickly, “Wait, don’t explain yet.  Come through to the kitchen and we can call for a tow truck, and I’ll start some breakfast.  Have you eaten?”
“Breakfast would be very welcome,” Max replied.  “What a delightful house this is.  It has great warmth and character.  Have you lived here long?  Forgive me if the question is too personal, please.”
“Not at all.  If that’s what you consider a personal question, you are in for some culture shock here!  Believe it or not, my mother’s great-grandparents built the place when they married about 150 years ago, and it’s passed down to sons and daughters ever since.  Though I suppose 150 years doesn’t sound that long to you, does it?”
Max chuckled, a deep, warm sound in the stone-floored kitchen.  “I’m afraid my family home in Amsterdam is about 400 years old,” he admitted.  “What’s more, I’m not aware of any case where a daughter got to inherit.  Still, I’m a strong proponent of a family headquarters that spans the generations.”
Tory, having found the number for the local repair shop, got back to business.  “The phone’s right on the wall,” she said.  “I’m afraid it’s likely there won’t be anyone there yet, but you can leave a message and have them call you back here.  The power’s out, but the phone’s usually very reliable in bad weather, and that will help save your cell phone battery.”  After checking with his car-rental agency, Max put through a call to the local mechanic while Tory began scrambling eggs on the old gas stove.
Many hours later, having waved her unexpected guest goodbye, she padded back into her kitchen to slump at the well-scrubbed wooden table and reflect on an extraordinary – yet very ordinary – day.  Max had settled into the old farmhouse like he’d been born there.  After getting through four eggs, a mound of hash browns and copious amounts of toast, he had pitched in on the dishwashing like an expert.  That chore finished, he volunteered to help with the shoveling.  Dressed in oddments from his carry-on and Tory’s brother’s wardrobe, finished off with her father’s hip waders, he’d done yeoman work on the front walk and driveway.  Then, while Tory made soup and sandwiches for lunch, he’d tackled some of the ancillary pathways.
Over lunch, he’d filled Tory in on the history of Frieseland, a part of the Netherlands with its own unique language and culture.  She had to do some guessing, since Max kept his narrative largely impersonal and always modest, but she inferred that his family was ancient, close-knit and prominent.  The conversation did give her a chance to thank him again for the symphony tickets he’d kindly provided in Amsterdam.  “I’m delighted you were able to use them,” he said.  “My mother sang your praises, as well.  She thought you deftig, and you should know there’s no better compliment my mother can bestow.”
Deftig,” Tory mused.  “That’s one of those words that doesn’t translate well, isn’t it?  I think someone told me it means elegant or chic or distinguished, which doesn’t seem like me, actually.  Anyway, it’s a lovely compliment.”
She hadn’t meant to be funny, but Max’s chuckle rumbled out.  “But the graciousness with which you’ve welcomed me here, and your ease and self-possession, are the kind of elegance the word encapsulates.  Mother has a fine eye for those qualities.”
She was blushing again, and jumped up quickly, gathering dishes.  “How very nice of you to say, and of her, too,” she said quickly.  “I’m sure she’s very deftig, much more than I.  At least, I think I’m sure she is!”
After their morning’s hard work, Tory recommended a restful afternoon, and they had alternated reading from the Bird family’s extensive bookshelves with a few hands of gin rummy until the sound of a booming engine broke into the living room.  The plow had finally arrived, and the two of them headed out to meet it.
“Hey, Patrick,” Tory called, waving to the local man driving the truck.  He pulled to a halt in front of the house, and pointed toward the Mercedes.  “Colin will be along to help your friend out of the ditch,” he promised.  “We tried to phone but didn’t get an answer.”
“We were out shoveling all morning,” Tory explained.  “And with the power out, the answering machine wouldn’t have picked up.  It doesn’t have a battery; I should have thought of that.”  Patrick grunted a reply in typically laconic New Hampshire style.  “Give a holler if you need anything,” he added, and maneuvered the plow carefully past the stuck car.
Colin had been equally economical with both words and motions.  With a bit of help from Max, his truck had the Mercedes back on the road quickly, where they could see the damage had been minimal.  One tire change later, her surprise visitor was bidding Tory good-bye.  “I’m sure we’ll meet around the town over the next few weeks,” he said as they shook hands.  “I look forward to getting to know all my new neighbors, if I may go by the standard you set for consideration and welcome.”
His lavish compliment set Tory to stammering and blushing again.  Before she became hopelessly entangled in counter-thanks and disclaimers, Max had leaned down from his great height and kissed her, very lightly, on each cheek.  “The continental style,” he’d explained, and swung around, sliding gracefully into the powerful Mercedes before putting the car into gear.  Thankfully, Tory had had – just barely – the presence of mind to reply in kind to his farewell wave before pressing her mittened hands against her cheeks.  “Oh, my,” she breathed, watching her breath fog in the cold air.  “Oh, my.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

Betty in the Wild: The Less-Deep South

I know Betty will disagree - politely - but I like superhighways.  Of course, the lesser byways of my native land are more likely to be lined with strip malls (pawn shop, hot-tub store (I'm serious; lots of hot-tub stores in the USA), nail salon, mini-food mart and not the kind where one receives proposals over the tinned goods) than with thatched pubs and white-clapboard churches.  That makes the major roads, which are most often lined with grasses and trees, seem quite attractive.  Nonetheless, I was a bit daunted by the thought of 1,000 miles on Route 95... but a few judicious exits made the trip a pleasure.

As, for instance, a stop at the Santee Wildlife Refuge in more-or-less Summerton, South Carolina, where there are endangered alligators (saw a skull at the visitor center, probably from a gator killed by a poacher, but no live critters, which is just fine with me; what ugly animals they are) and a burial mound that both Brits and Yanks used as a fort back in the Disturbance-in-the-Colonies days.  By that time, the local Santee tribe had little use for it, as contact with Europeans had reduced their numbers from 3,000 to fewer than 500.  The tribe was extirpated by 1800.

Not quite the Acropolis, but the site of a notable American victory over British forces in... oh.  Sorry.

Just to prove we're still in the South.  Note commendable lack of alligators slithering from the mud, much as an over-indulged little sister might, or the imp of jealousy operating on an over-imaginative fiancee who catches sight of a pretty cousin kissing her fiance.

In Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, I accidentally purchased a gardenia that will not thrive in northern Virginia, and skidded into a u-turn when I saw this picturesque church.  Why?

Give you hint:  not because it's picturesque.

Get it?  Get it?!?

Finally, in Richmond, Virginia, once the capital of the confederacy, I perused the statuary, much as Beatrice did in Copenhagen.  Except hers was a mermaid and mine was mostly soldiers, statesmen and allegories.

Then I had lunch at an old-world Italian place, followed by what Beatrice would call pancakes by way of a sweet.  The restaurant pictured here, and I, call them crepes.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Huge Roses: Chapter Two, part one

In chapter one, American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist.  After a lovely weekend that includes meeting the doctor's mother at the Concergebouw thanks to tickets provided by the doctor, Tory returns home to the United States.

For installment one, look here.  Installment two is right here.

THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission

Chapter Two, part1

Her five days in Amsterdam had been wonderful, but after an uneventful flight and the long drive home from the Boston airport, Tory was thrilled to see her elderly Subaru’s headlights shining onto the Bird family’s 19th-century farmhouse.  Life in a sleepy lakeside village in New Hampshire held plenty of excitement for her, especially with her parents out of the country for a year-long research and teaching project in Turkey.  She switched off the engine and heard the welcoming barks of Jennet and Hal, the family’s adopted mutts, and smiled with deep contentment.  As she opened the door, the dogs rushed out while a long-haired grey cat, Fiona, slipped in.
Tory turned up the thermostat, dropped her suitcase at the foot of the stairs and checked food and water bowls; Jenny Fisher, her nearest neighbor, had taken good care of the pets while she was gone.  Jenny had also left a loaf of bread on the kitchen table, and a note directing Tory to a pan of lasagna waiting in the refrigerator.  She set the pasta in the oven to warm and headed upstairs to unpack, shower and change.  Thirty minutes later, in flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers, she sat at the scrubbed wooden kitchen table, tucking in with the peculiar hunger of the jet-lagged.  With the cat on her lap and the dogs at her feet, she felt the strong, peaceful pull of home.  There might be a tinge of loneliness, but the next day would bring work, neighbors and friends.  Jane was right, and Tory felt herself fortunate in living a very good life.
In the next few days, she slipped quickly back into her daily round, helping patients at the local family doctor’s office and doing chores at home.  There was always a lot to do, since the Bird family home was old, and sat on a large plot of land.  Tory tilled compost into the vegetable garden, picked the last of the apples to make and can applesauce, and called on that high school boyfriend, Rob Tucker, to help her get the storm windows up.  She stopped by the Shop ’n’ Save to re-stock the refrigerator and pick up ingredients for Halloween cookies, looking forward to the parade of ballerinas and goblins that arrived that night.  Walking and biking around her small town, she took time to notice the fading autumn colors against the brilliant blue of the October sky.  It was always especially vivid at this time of year, and Tory relished it as insulation against the greyer days to come.
At work, Dr. Bachman and his receptionist, Millie Sharpe, quickly brought her up to speed on town happenings, with an emphasis on the progress of the local infants and elderlies, with an occasional foray into cancer, heart disease or bone fracture.  Josh Brown, a town stalwart and busy orthopedist, was getting a first-hand view of his own rehab facility in Hanover after shattering an ankle while mountain biking.  Millie’s mother was talking about moving to South Carolina.  Diana Schwahnn, eight months pregnant, asked about the sisters’ trip to the Netherlands after her check-up.  “I really, really envy you,” she said.  “All your traveling!  I told Andrew that we may be baby-bound this winter, but next year, as soon as the thermometer hits freezing, we’re flying out of here.  This little girl won’t get that helicopter-parenting thing.  As soon as she’s big enough to stay with her grandpa and grandma, I’m finding myself an exotic vacation spot and fleeing the cold and snow.”
“Well,” Tory answered, “I’m trying not to envy you a great husband and a baby on the way.  Seriously, if you need a break when your daughter comes, I’d be happy to come over one evening.”  She smiled at the thought of a fuzzy-haired newborn, and Diana smiled back.
“It’s a good thing you’re such a happy person, Tory,” she said.  “You’re just beautiful when you smile.  And there’s no one I’d trust more to babysit.  When you’ve found Mr. Right, we can start one of those childcare cooperatives.  Now I’d better waddle out of here before the snow starts.  I don’t know what I’ll do if there’s a blizzard on when I go into labor!”
Diana hadn’t been speaking idly; the local news was warning of an early snowfall.  At home, Tory checked the pantry to be sure of her supplies:  canned food, of course, plus kerosene for the lamps, fresh batteries for the radio, and a couple gallons of water.  It would be unusual to get a serious storm before November, but as Jenny down the road had remarked, “The weather around here is always unusual,” and Tory believed in being prepared.  She trundled more logs up from the barn and stacked them in the mud room, ready to feed the wood stove.
The skies held out long enough for the smaller children to do their trick-or-treating in daylight.  The office closed early that day, so its employees could be home to greet the early arrivals.  Tory exclaimed over visiting astronauts, dragons, mice and witches and encouraged the kids to take miniature packets of peanuts or trail mix, rather than sweets, from her cauldron of treats.  “I have to admit,” she told one rueful mother, “I would have taken something chocolatey when I was their age, too.  In fact, I probably still would.”
“Speaking of chocolate,” her friend answered, “Jenny shared some of those chocolates you brought her from Amsterdam with me.  They were outrageous!  If that’s the payment, please let me take care of the dogs next time you’re away.  Any more plans to travel?”
“Good heavens, I just got back.  Mother and Dad would like me to come out to Turkey while they’re there, and I might try that toward spring.  It’s a long trip, though; it’s hard to do with just a week off from work.”
“I forgot – all of you Birds love the winter here, don’t you?  Now me, as soon as the kids are grown and I can figure out how to work a telecommute deal, I’m for a condo in Florida from October ’til April!”
Looking up at the sky as the older children started to appear toward dusk, Tory gave thanks that she did indeed love the winter.  It certainly looked like they were getting an early start that year, as the clouds massed and lowered, and the wind began to pick up.  Switching on the outdoor light, she looked with satisfaction at the Franklin stove that could keep the whole house warm if needed.  She’d already started a fire in it, and set a kettle of water on top to heat for a cup of tea before supper.  When she opened the door at the next ring of the bell, she saw the snowflakes were beginning to fall.
“Hey, Ms. Bird,” a gangly teenager greeted her from the group on the front step.  “We wanted to make sure we stopped by here in case you made cookies.”
“Mack?” Tory asked, and the tall boy’s friends parted to allow a better view.  “In whiteface?  Oh, you’re a mime!  That’s a great outfit.”
“I’m an evil mime,” Mack clarified.  “You can tell by the eyebrows.”
“Fantastic,” Tory clapped her hands together, enchanted by the kids’ creativity.  “And you must be an evil prom queen, and you are clearly a headless basketball player.  And is that Gina?  Gina, I’m stumped.”
“I think I should only tell you if you’ve got cookies,” the glamorous girl in cat’s eye glasses, white makeup and a stethoscope answered.
“They’re just out of the oven,” Tory promised.  “Oatmeal-cranberry-chocolate chip.”
“Awesome!” came the answer.  “I’m an undead movie star!  Look at my eyes!”  Tory peered closer, and saw someone had skillfully used makeup to create the illusion of eyeballs – bright blue irises and dark pupils on a white field – on Gina’s eyelids.  As she fluttered her eyes open and closed, she seemed always to be gazing straight ahead.
“Wow,” Tory said.  “That looks really freaky – spooky, even.  Congratulations.  Hold on just a second, and I’ll get the cookies.”  Returning with the cooling rack, she turned a puzzled look to Gina and asked, “Why the stethoscope?”
“Oh, you know,” the girl answered, pulling her opulent fake fur closer and waving her cigarette holder, “just adds a certain something, doesn’t it?”
The headless basketball player, clutching a handful of cookies, said, “You guys, we better get moving.  It’s really starting to snow.  Are you ready for the blizzard, Ms. Bird?”
“I think so,” Tory replied.  “But if you’re one of the Boudreau family, you can be sure I’ll call your dad if anything goes wrong with the pipes.  You kids be careful heading home, please – I hate rehabbing sprained ankles.  They take forever.”  As the group headed back to the street, Tory called after them, “That had better be a candy cigarette, Gina!”  She closed the door on what was surely the last of the trick-or-treaters, wondering if the now fast-falling snow would stick, and accumulate, or just peter out.  “It’s too early for a real storm,” she muttered.
Still, she was glad to have the wood at the ready and soup on the stove.  There was always something kind of cozy about drawing the curtains and dragging extra blankets into the living room to pile on the couch.  Curled up by the stove, with the dogs and Fiona the cat variously disposed in prime locations near the heat, she listened with half an ear to the news highlights while focusing most of her attention on her great-grandmother’s hundred-year-old, leather-bound edition of Jane Austen.  Austen was always a good choice on a quiet night.  “And even better if the lights are out,” Tory announced to the animals as the radio abruptly went silent and the room jolted into darkness.  With lamps at the ready, Tory soon had light again, and used it to step to the door and peer into the night.
It looked like a real storm, after all, with an inch or so already accumulated, and the wind blowing hard.  Padding up to bed after getting Marianne and Elinor to their happy ending, with the pets trailing behind her, Tory snuggled happily under her down comforter, enjoying a quiet so deep she really believed she could hear the snowflakes falling.
Waking to weak sunlight filtering into her bedroom the next morning, she reached out to flick on the bedside lamp.  Nothing – the electricity was still out.  Enjoying the feeling that modern life’s stress and busy-ness would have to cede to nature’s demands for a few more hours (or at least until the dogs’ demands got her up), Tory sank deeper beneath her comforter and dozed dreamily, listening for some sign of whether the snow continued.  Instead, she heard the intrusive sound of a motor growing louder, then a mechanical squeal and a muffled thump.  Someone out before the plows must have gotten into trouble on the turn.  Always a good neighbor, Tory flung back the covers and leapt out of bed, not forgetting to proclaim, “white rabbits,” to the new month, a family luck-charm that had survived the Bird siblings’ childhood.
A thick, oversized sweater over her flannel pajamas, sturdy, fleece-lined boots on her feet, and her brother’s battered old ski parka topping the lot, Tory tromped to the front door.  Just a few yards down the street, she saw a shiny new Mercedes – a big one – angled awkwardly into the ditch that bordered the street.  Covered in snow, the sharp drop-off was impossible to see.  With Jennet and Hal floundering happily ahead of her, she made her way to the car to offer assistance.  The driver had already emerged to inspect the situation, and with a shock she recognized the blond giant she had met weeks before in Amsterdam!