Sunday, August 23, 2009


Pierre Lapin went the way of all rabbits. No one was quite sure what happened, but one morning he was not in his tree.

Some time later Carlysle replaced him with a pygmy goat. The goat also needed a name and inspection revealed that he had been “pruned.” Castrated, if one is to be indelicate about it. Carlysle immediately thought of Mozart.

Well, not Mozart really, but the castrato, Venanzio Rauzzini. As every schoolboy knows, Rauzzini was one of Mozart's favorite castrati. The relationship leaped to Carlysle's mind, and so the newest resident at Chez Carlysle was christened Rauzzini.

Like his predecessor, Pierre, Rauzzini was determined to live in the house with Carlysle and Cadence. The humans were firm in their desire to not share their living quarters with a goat, but Rauzzini was much more intelligent than a rabbit, wily, cunning, sly. Effective. And there was so much in the house to tempt a goat, cat food, potato chips, musical scores. There was so much paper in Carlysle's house, books, pamphlets, magazines, and scores, hundreds and hundreds of musical scores, art songs, Broadway hits, motets, Medieval chorale music, orchestrations. Very tempting to a goat's palate, especially one named Rauzzini.

He'd take advantage whenever a visiting student or performer left the door even slightly ajar. Carlyle's house was in the Victorian style, two stories, two stairwells, and many small rooms. It even had a dumb waiter, which Rauzzini never found. (If I ever write the screen play, Rauzzini will find the dumb waiter.)

Many were the hunts, the “hallo-o-os” raised by small groups of people as they chased after and tried to locate the well hidden pygmy goat. I recall chasing him down once myself, my voice lesson interrupted by the escapade of a goat. I had no idea there were so many rooms in that house, but I had a chance to visit them all. And once I had located Rauzzini, and dragged him from under the bed, I still had to find a way to get him outside. He wouldn't lead. Carrying a wriggling goat down steep stairs is not one of the safest things I have ever done. I'm not sure who was the angrier when I deposited Rauzzini outdoors.

Carlysle once tried to show me what a clever goat Rauzzini was. He was going to have the goat run back and forth on the driveway in front of the house. But first he had to show the goat what was wanted. Carlysle ran back and forth on the driveway in front of the house by way of demonstration. Rauzzini sat down and watched Carlysle run back and forth. I guess he wanted to study the technique.

Carlysle eventually ran out of breath and decided that if Rauzzini could run back and forth, he wasn't going to do so on that particular day. So everyone but the goat came in and we sang songs for a while.

Rauzzini eventually crossed over to where the weather is always fair in that great goat pasture in the sky. Carlysle had this final accolade for him. “Rauzzini had great taste. He only ate first violin parts.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pierre Lapin

Nevada City, California, 1980s.

I have a friend, call him Carlysle, who lives with his girlfriend Cadence in an old Victorian house on two acres of hilltop surrounded by cedar trees. He has nearby neighbors, but he only sees their houses when he drives up his winding driveway. He's also near several large shopping malls and a freeway, but he can't see or hear them either.

His house will never be featured in Sunset and no one would ever mistake it for a movie set. But it does have one thing, music. Cadence is a performing musician, singer and teacher. Carlysle also sings, plays a little piano and is currently working on the cello. There are lessons or rehearsals in progress and hot and cold running performers are in and out at all times in the old Victorian house. There is no time for distractions like freeway noise and mall lights.

Every now and then Carlysle does strange things. Once he brought home a rabbit. It might have been for Easter, but it wasn't a dead rabbit, something useful, something you could cook for dinner. My, no, this was a live rabbit and so, of course, he had to have a name. Carlysle named him Pierre. Pierre Lapin.

I don't suppose Carlysle gave much thought to where Pierre would live. He knew it wouldn't be in the house with Cadence and him, but he had no suitable hutches or other kind of outbuilding that might do. It was cold in those spring evenings, so Carlysle set up a cardboard box with some rags for warmth and some food for sustenance in his carport. (It would have been a carport, but there was no room for his car since it had an accumulation of other miscellany that grown over previous months. There was barely room for Pierre, and he was not a big rabbit.

Pierre did manage to make it into the house a time or two, but each time he was firmly put back into his box in the carport. Otherwise, he had free range of the large yard. However, dogs roamed the neighborhood, as well as raccoons, cats, and other predators who might be interested in a rabbit entree. Pierre survived several onslaughts but after one particularly perilous occasion, made himself very scarce. It took Carlysle several hours to find him.

Enough was enough, my friend decided. He resolved to put Pierre's box where it would be safe from all the predators. He put the box up in a black oak tree about eight feet off the ground.

But rabbits don't climb trees, not even gifted rabbits. But Carlysle had a plan. He got some ducting, the same kind of tubular material used to vent laundry dryers, and wrapped it around the tree several times so that it led gently from the ground to the box.

“Carl,” I said, “I don't want to hurt your feelings, but that is a genuinely stupid idea.” You see, I knew all about rabbit behavior and Carlysle didn't.

Apparently Pierre didn't know much about rabbit behavior, either, because he walked right into the ducting and waltzed up to his box. A tunnel is a tunnel, right?

MORAL: Just because an idea is stupid, doesn't mean it won't work.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Auburn, California, 1960s.

We've all seen race prejudice in humans before, but I have only seen one race prejudiced horse in my entire life. His name was Crow.

Crow, an appaloosa stallion, was a part of Betty Veal's horse business. People wanting to raise their own appaloosa foal would bring their candidate mare to Betty's ranch, pay their stud fee, and Crow would “cover the mare.”

There was only one thing wrong with this otherwise splendid scheme. Crow did not like grey mares, any of them. He liked bays, seal browns, sorrels, duns, buckskins, grullas, palominos. But he would not cover grey mares. He wouldn't even rouse himself to make the attempt.

What was Betty to do? Tell her customers to keep their money because their mares didn't meet with her stud's aesthetic standards? Refusing or returning someone's stud fee is a disagreeable prospect for anyone in the horse breeding business. But to have your stud become the laughing stock of the county is simply not acceptable.

Betty gave the matter considerable thought. She was a well-educated woman, a successful nurse. She figured that if she couldn't outwit her own stallion, she had better give up horses and take up needlepoint. It turned out to be no major feat to trick Crow.

Crow was particularly fond of one mare. When next Betty had a grey mare to breed, she hid the animal behind a building. Then she stood Crow's favorite lady, decked out in baubles and bangles with cornflowers woven into her mane, just around the corner from the grey. Crow rose to the occasion, as he thought, but before he realized what was happening, Betty had whisked him around the corner and he had covered the grey. Blecch!

I grew to really respect Betty's determination to accomplish a mission. If you have never assisted at a horse breeding, permit me to tell you that a stallion ready to “do the job” is an awesome sight. He rears up, three quarters of a ton of male animal ready for one thing and it isn't taking a walk.

But Betty accomplished the deed, and the grey mare got covered. The wonderful thing was, the trick worked several times. Crow never caught on. And every time it worked, Crow eyed Betty reproachfully. “Aw, ma, you did it again. Durn it.”

But I wouldn't try this trick witåh just any stallion. Crow was actually a pretty good guy.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Auburn, California, 1960s.

Sam was a gelding we had, part of our menagerie, a huge, sweet gentle brute. Sweet, gentle, kind. He bucked a lot, thereby demonstrating that nobody is perfect.
He was “cinchie.” that was the problem. If you tightened the saddle beyond what he thought proper, he panicked.

Sam was supposed to have been born an appaloosa. Appaloosa is a color type. If your foal is brightly colored, he's worth some money. If he is not so brightly colored, or even lacks the color pattern entirely but has some other distinguishing characteristics, you might be able to do something with him. But if your foal is a clean miss, no appaloosa qualities whatever, you've got dog food on the hoof. Sam was dog food on the hoof.

I don't know what appaloosas are like today, but back in the sixties, they sometimes had ugly heads. Alexander the Great rode a leopard spotted appaloosa named Bucephalus. “Bucephalus” means “cow head” in Greek. Sam didn't have a cow head. He had a suitcase head. Ina Robinson, his breeder, named him “Samsonite.” When we acquired the horse as a two-year-old, his name had been shortened to Sam.

The huge foal grew to be a huge young gelding, 17 hands 2 inches tall. But he was still a teenager. There was a lot of air between the ground and his belly. And sometimes between the saddle and the rider if you didn't get the cinch right. Sam's front legs were close together because his chest had not begun to develop. One rancher friend expressed it well. “So, who cares if his front legs come out of the same hole. Why waste a hole?” But as Sam grew into a real horse, he developed a real chest as well, but the front legs still came out of the same hole.

Joanne used Sam as a trail horse for a while. It had its advantages. For one thing, you ride above the dust raised by the other horses. I'd ride Legend, 15 hands (a ten inch difference there), gasping and wheezing on a hot, windless, breezeless summer day, sneezing dust out of my nose, and Joanne would be serenely above it all, safe on her tall horse.

On the other hand, she sometimes got scraped off on branches the rest of us rode under. Once she got a branch stuck in her boot. She kicked her feet free of the stirrups and hung on like. Sam went on down the trail leaving her dangling like a large, outraged bird while the rest of us proceeded on our dusty way. Joanne chose the correct option, though. Better to dangle from a tree than to come off over Sam's rump. He was a sensitive guy with an energetic way of showing his displeasure. You had to be careful.

Joanne used to brag that she had been thrown too many times to count. But one day Sam panicked because a stirrup touched his cinch and Sam augured her into the ground. Now she says she's only been thrown once. All the other times she just came off the horse.

Sam got over his cinchie ways when he was about five and we sold him to a little girl who was going to use him as a jumper. It wasn't fair, really. There was still so much air between the ground and the horse's belly that all he had to do was lift his feet to clear most obstacles he'd encounter in the jumping arena.

The girl renamed him “Tiny Tim.”