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Pleasure Hunting

“The Hunt” was painted by Scottish artist Robert Burns around 1926, as part of his coherent Art Deco interior design for Crawford’s Tea Rooms in Edinburgh.

Deep into the first puzzle of the season, a light snow drifts down again. We’ve all ordered our puzzles for the year, and since everyone else’s were primarily blue hues, I chose different colors. There are so many factors to review in choosing only one puzzle per year. When I first got addicted, I made my selection solely by the image itself. As it became clear that more recent puzzles feature more complex cuts, I began looking for harder puzzles, those with fewer edge pieces, smaller pieces, more intricate whimsy pieces, and now, knock me over with a feather, there are several with alternative solutions!

How did I never think of doing this before with the whimsy pieces?
All the pieces are whimsical but whimsy pieces have a recognizable shape, either an animal, plant, person, or part thereof, or they’re geometrical or symmetrical. Whimsy pieces are at the heart of what makes these puzzles works of art in their own right.

The seemingly infinite variety of the cuts, as Liberty’s designer gets more inventive season by season, brings surprise and delight in each new puzzle; older puzzles in our community collection continue to gratify as I do them again with a different strategy each time: from the outside in or the inside out? starting with a color, or a figure, or clockwise or counter-clockwise…? The designer’s puzzler fans here are growing with him and seek more complexity in each puzzle we choose. This winter we’ve all opted for challenging puzzles, one even designated “Experts Only.”

Opening the puzzle box that enticing new puzzle scent wafts out. I have a particular way I sort the pieces, as I unpack them from their tissue paper nest. Whimsy pieces all to one side, obvious edges at the top, and then some other classifications as each unique puzzle invites. People have asked if I have a strategy, and the truth is that the particulars of each puzzle dictate how I sort its pieces, and all following aspects of my strategy: each strategy is unique as the puzzle that shapes it. So I’ve sorted all the pieces, played Forest House with them, and it’s time to stretch my legs, my back, give my eyes a break from close-up for awhile.

I look away from the table, and movement out the south window catches my eye, three does leaping the picket fence. A small forky buck strides up under the apricot tree.

No wonder the does leapt. As he stalks stealthily west across the yard and leaps after the does, I notice a good-size three-point buck in the brush left of them. Scanning for more I glance away, then am drawn back by odd movement. The buck has something caught in his antlers, and seems to be struggling to scrape it off — is it wire? God no! I’m always worried I’ve left some stray piece of wire or fencing around that will accidentally snag a buck.

Then I see he’s got a juniper branch stuck in his antlers: he does, then suddenly he doesn’t, then he does. Then he stands tall with his white antlers free of green twigs, and looks to the right, into the woods, from which emerges a larger three-point buck, stalking in that wild restrained way of rut. The smaller buck casually veers off to the south, and the big buck comes to the same juniper, a small sapling I see now, about four feet tall, and rages through it with his antlers in the same manner. Both have been spreading their scent all over this little tree from their forehead glands. Topaz sleeps in her cushioned bed on the sunroom table missing the whole thing. She would’ve enjoyed watching it. The large buck turns back into the woods, herding an older doe ahead of him.

Not a great photo, but observe the buck’s lips, partially obscured by a twig: His upper lip is curled, and nostrils squeezed, in the rut behavior called flehmen, where he inhales directly into a scent organ beyond the roof of his mouth. Many mammals do this for different reasons, and in this case he’s scenting the female he follows in hopes of breeding.
The observed distracted by the observer, he drops his lip and watches me for a moment, before continuing after his quarry.

It’s been a thrilling wildlife interlude, more fun than I could have asked for in a ten-minute break. After they’ve all moved past the boundary fence I let the dogs out to read the air, and we stroll around the yard before returning to the now oddly more relevant puzzle.

Not only is this ‘complex whimsy’ piece that stands on its own four feet precious by itself, but with the first connecting pieces in place it reveals one of Diana’s nymphs. The other nymph lurks in the corner…
This kind of truly whimsical detail just brings me a quick hit of joy. And they pop up throughout doing the puzzle, like little mental pop rocks all sweet and fizzy.
Corners can now be made of three pieces, not just two! Notice the little bat full of toes?
While sorting, there seemed to be a lot of flat edge pieces. There are actually a lot of flat fake edge pieces semi-symmetrically arranged, above, and below.

At this point, on the third morning, I can hardly bear to finish the puzzle, yet I can’t stop myself from working it. So few pieces left, only barely easier than it was at the beginning to find a matching space for each. So complex, so alive, a naturalist’s delight. Fleas as one-of-the-leopard’s spots! A tiny monkey face in the top left corner and another half monkey, magpies flying all across the top; pink toes, too many feet! But they all fit into their perfect places perfectly. It’s time to invoke Kathleen’s Rule.

I’ve been working so far with Seymour’s Rule, which is usually called into play before starting the puzzle, but can be invoked at any time. Seymour’s Rule dictates that you may look at the cover image once, before starting the puzzle, and never again until you finish it. At first it seemed unimaginably challenging to me, and I excused my lack of willingness to play it by saying, I enjoy the original artwork too much to not look at it from time to time while doing the puzzle. But now looking makes the puzzle too easy, seems almost like cheating, which is what Seymour obviously thought, and also Philip, who insists on this rule.

To start a puzzle, I usually pick a distinct color there’s not too much of, in this case the black jaguar’s pelt, and gather and assemble as many pieces as I can find of it, sometimes invoking Kathleen’s Rule for just that section. There are always missing pieces, that show up later in the puzzle with just the tiniest fleck of the color.

Kathleen’s Rule states that once you pick up a piece from the table, you must place it before you can pick up another piece. You may slide pieces around to get a closer look, but once you’ve lifted it, it must go into its proper slot. You don’t want to invoke this rule too early in the puzzle, or it might drive you mad, so it’s usually only called when there are a few dozen pieces left out. However, I find myself enjoying doing more of a puzzle in this methodical, meditative way, and often start with nearly half the pieces left. But of course I bend the rules when I play alone. All except the cardinal rule, No Food or Drink on the Puzzle Table!

I like to save a special piece for last, which, again, the nature of the puzzle dictates.

And there she is, Diana and her Nymphs, and her jaguars, and monkeys, and magpies, in her mythical jungle, together after two and a half days of concerted focus. A weekend well spent, with a few chores and exercises squeezed in between bouts of obsession that left me with a stiff neck and blurred vision. Next long weekend, I’ll tackle the alternative solution, unless another puzzle comes my way first. Notice how the weird, imperfect symmetries of the original solution now make sense.

It took a few times looking at this image to discern that it’s a stag’s head. Getting my myths mixed up, I thought at first perhaps it was a tree. Now it’s so clear I see nothing else: Actaeon, the hapless hunter who stumbled upon goddess Diana bathing naked, and whom she subsequently turned into a stag.

That Mangy Old Doe: Adventures with Peaches

Just a couple of recent dahlia pics to remind the world that yes, dahlias are worth the trouble, especially for native pollinators and honeybees. Deadheading with snippers once or twice a week and feeding occasionally keeps them blooming for a long season from mid-summer into fall.

How the young fawn knows to lay low when the doe steps away in alarm from a human strolling through the woods with dogs, old dogs that no longer give chase; and how now later, the older fawn, still spotted but fading, still more slightly built, less than half her mother’s size, how the older fawn knows to step lightly and exactly with her mother under similar conditions. They rise like a breeze from their bed west of the fence, already stepping diagonally away, the doe looking calmly, alertly over her shoulder at me, the fawn like a feather on that breeze a full stride behind, attentive only to the mother she knows at all costs to follow.

Another doe, the mangy old doe who kept the ground clean beneath the apricot tree now grooms the peach. We fenced it off again after she began pulling unripe peaches from lower limbs, shaking others to the ground with her tenacity, breaking branches. We waited that morning, watching, until she left of her own accord. 

Is she spitting out the pits? Kathy asked. 

It sure looks like it. But maybe she’s just dropping pieces.

Wouldn’t it be funny if she’s spitting out the pits?

After she left we rolled out the fence and secured a big ring close enough to the trunk, far enough out under the crown, that she’d be unwilling to jump inside it. She could almost reach the outer leaves. She looked sadly when she returned a few times, but then adapted. 

Recent weeks have focused on monitoring the peach tree, gauging ripeness not only by both color and feel, but also by observing birds. A scrub jay keeps returning, pecking at one or another of some top fruits, a finch or two checks them out. I’m waiting, morning and evening, and sometimes lunchtimes, to see when a whole finch family descends on the peaches; then I’ll know it’s time to start picking.

It feels like the right time but it takes a few days to get the feel of which peaches to pick, which to leave on the tree to ripen a day or few longer. Hummingbirds have been using the cover of peach leaves to guard their feeder, and buzz close as I lean over the wire, reach into the canopy, and quick pull or twist a fruit off. Filling my shirt with a dozen bright peachy pink fuzzballs… gently settling them into a bowl inside the house, and suddenly they look so much yellower, so much less ripe, so much smaller, than they did when I picked them!

Within a week I’ve salvaged all the peaches I can. What’s left on the tree, besides a few untouched just too high or deep inside for me to reach, have all been pecked a little or a lot by various birds. This morning, the old mangy doe is back, looking longingly at the peach tree just out of reach.

Oh! I think, I’ll open that up for you. She steps a few feet away and nibbles on Rhus trilobata, watches out the corner of her eye as I switch the water to another sprinkler, she waits. I approach the peach fence from farthest side and she glides twenty feet toward the yard fence, not unduly alarmed. Walking under the tree I slowly roll up the field fence into a tube a yard across, hook its loose ends over the next layer in a couple of spots at the seam, and drag it to the side, all while murmuring to the doe, glancing at her then down and away, while she waits, relaxed and poised for flight if necessary.

I turn and walk the thirty feet to the patio; before I reach my chair she’s under the peach tree watching me. I smile, watch her watch me, until she too smiles in a way, her body releases a level of guard, she drops her head, and begins to feast on fallen fruit remnants.

Hmmm. I wonder if she’ll spit the pits?

You’re welcome!

After she’s had her fill for the time being, she strides cautiously across the yard to get her greens, a few mouthfuls of feral heirloom arugula, before leaping the south fence, leaving the yard.

Meanwhile, I got busy on the peaches…
I’d never made cobbler before and found an easy recipe. After glopping the batter into the hot buttered pan I lightly smoothed it without disturbing the butter layer.
mmmmm, then I spooned the hot peach mixture on top of that, sprinkled with cinnamon, and baked.

With two big bowls of peaches on the counter and tomatoes rolling in, it’s time to get back into the kitchen and save some more summer for winter, coming all too soon. But first:

Puppy pile under the wild rose at Karen’s house. The litter of seven was born to a sweet bitch abandoned by her owners when they moved. They told a neighbor, “If she bothers you just shoot her.” Rescued by Karen’s daughter, sweet Nellie has been a good mama, and now it’s time for the pups to find good homes…. But mine won’t be one of them: I’ve got just the right mix of garden companions at the moment, a household in harmony, with two old dogs whose last days I’m counting with bittersweet attention.
Topaz and Stellar greet each other beside rapidly ripening paprika.
Elusive Admiral Weidemeyer flitted through the yard again a week after Kathy first spotted him, alighting on an aspen sapling. Not the only butterfly surprise this summer!