Counting on the nose flute
April 25, 2014
Several people have cornered me lately and said my columns were getting way too serious, you know, like boring. After my initial flare of indignation and upon a bit of reflection, it dawned on me that they were right. So I decided to tone things up a bit this week with a musical theme and a sprightly discussion of nose flutes.
Actually the topic was inspired by our basset hound, Freeta Goodhome, who is an excellent basso profondo flautist of stunning resonance and alarming persistence. Nose flutes are like compact slide whistles. For you symphonically disadvantaged, nose flutes produce a shrill, enormously annoying noise achieved by the determined and persistent passage of air through the nasal cavity of a pouting basset hound. It's a sound sort of like the cross between microphone feedback and a dying cat.
Both of our dogs are talented mathematicians and very intelligent. I know this because in the mornings when we get up, before I make coffee or get the paper, I give them three biscuits. Biscuits are their reward for protecting us through the night from everything from aliens to zombies. So far, so good.
Fraser can get pretty cold at night, even in summer. The dogs have their own door so they can patrol the yard after dark without anyone's help. The door actually has two flaps, an inner and an outer to help insulate and cut down on the drafts. The basset defeats the insulating principle by sticking her head into the house with the inner door flap draped over her head and the outer door flap draped over her posterior. I think she figures when her nose is warm, it doesn't matter what's happening with her butt. It doesn't bother her at all when freezing winds blast through the doors around her. The house plants, for 10 feet around, stunted and withered, looking like houseplants in a "B" movie after the vampire walks by.
We got Freeta from the Granby Shelter, likewise her companion, Cuervo, so named because he's a licker. They always tumble downstairs with me in the morning, and I reward them with three small dog biscuits apiece, alternating between the two. Unknowingly, I seem to have taught them to count.
Last week I opened the jar as per the ritual, dismayed to find only four biscuits left. Then I figured, "Heck, these two have the mental horsepower of a toasted sesame seed bagel. I'll cut them back to two and they'll never know the difference." After the first biscuit they stared at me, wagging and expectant. "Okay," I said enthusiastically, "Here comes the third and final biscuit!" They gobbled it and stared at me, heads cocked in curiosity because they could see that my hands were empty. "Okay," I said, "Biscuit time's over. Climb up on the couch and sleep your lazy lives away." They responded with a focused and demanding glare, the wags slowed to a stop. Without a moment's hesitation, the basset launched into a flautist extravaganza that would have made an Irish bagpiper clap his hands over his ears.
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"Hey!" I said, "Cut that out and go eat a squirrel." Their eyes followed me around the room. They knew I had shortchanged them. It dawned on me that my dogs could count and were able to distinguish between two and three! I ran to the fridge and scrounged some leftover chicken and tossed them a couple of sizeable chunks. The wags started going furiously and suddenly we were all friends again.
Next week: How Cuervo mastered the times tables and became president of the school board!