Tag Archives: Cats

Pinkerbell

“I’m coming, too!” I call to the Bearded One who is spraying his tanned shins with mosquito repellant out where the truck is usually parked.

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It’s between rain showers and I can’t go swimming this Monday morning because the truck is in the shop. The Bearded One just got his hat and stick and sunglasses for his morning walk, so I decide to join him on my new bike that I got for Mother’s Day – Pinkerbell.

“Yay!” he calls back and waves his walking stick. Lots of pit bulls on the Big Island.

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It’s 9:30am, 68 degrees. It’s also Mt. St. Helens Day, I see in our Hawaii Tribune Herald. Thirty-five years ago today Mt. St. Helens blew, and I was in Seattle, just a hundred miles away. In church. Now I’m living less than 25 miles from Mt. Kilauea, currently active and rumbling – 25 earthquakes up there this weekend. Our daughters, one of whom is pregnant and had a baby shower on Saturday, still live in Seattle. I fly to the mainland, as we say here, late next month to welcome this grandchild, whose sex remains unknown.

I check the Magic Number – the solar battery read-out in the guest room – 85%. Excellent. This is the best of off-grid life. The sun charges the solar batteries and we don’t have to run the propane generator, and the rain keeps the catchment tank full. The solar system got some needed fine-tuning last week, and we’ve reached 100% every day since.

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I walk through the tiny hallway of our 900 square foot 2-story Hippie House into the den and admire the working sliding glass door and the windows full of green and yellow light. The crocus looks like it’s on fire.

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I step out onto the newly finished lanai. There’s the washer and dryer. And there’s Pinkerbell, dry under the new tin roof, ready for a spin.

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Pinkerbell has a kickstand. As well as a basket, 7 gears, wide tires and seat, and is the hottest shade of pink outside of a lipstick tube. We bought her at Target, select Schwinns on sale 25% off, and paid $180 including tax and my Hawaii Bike License ($15) which will come in the mail.

My sister named her, although my brother came up with some good ones, too. My brother and I rode our bikes everywhere growing up in Houston, Texas in the 1960s. My bike was a blue Cruiser, a lot like Pinkerbell. His was a bit smaller and red.

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I’ve ridden Pinkerbell every day since I brought her home on Mother’s Day. I rode her to the labyrinth last week and wowed the women. “Whose Schwinn!?” one of them cried out on sight. I ride my fairy bike up and down our rode a couple of times a day, inhaling the ocean breeze, looking at the vast sky.

Nala blocks me as I wheel the bike down the lanai, then lies on the step and meows. “Shoo,” I say. Nala sleeps outdoors now. Unlike in Seattle, there are no coyotes or raccoons here to kill outdoor cats. Nala will be a year old next month and she is a great hunter and companion, even if she won’t stay in your lap for 5 seconds.

Smoke’s in the air. Our 80-year-old neighbor starts his fireplace whenever it gets below 70 degrees. The Bearded One collects wood for him as he works the farmlet, spreading cinder soil over the lava, pruning the Monkeypod tree,

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cultivating the pineapples (100+ yummy white ones),

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transplanting palms and boosting the compost on the bananas. I wheel Pinkerbell around the house, past the huge mango that rains down mangos when the trade winds come, past the barbecue that’s already rusted, into the yard where the truck usually sits.

A huge dove crashed into it yesterday and busted the sunroof out of its weld. The Bearded One heard it from inside the house and saw the wounded dove, seemingly the size of a small turkey, and its mate fly off. “A great way to use up a chunk of bad luck,” he said.

We head out to the road, me pedaling slowly, the Bearded One marching his happy walk, swinging his stick.

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We meet neighbors and dogs, everyone waves. The Rottweilers croon, the dog named Shane barks and wags hello, and the old man named Richard waves from his lanai with his dog JC. On our way back, a neighbor comes out to the road to introduce us to Kula, a silky soft 9-week-old Golden/Border Collie mix. “We got her at the Humane Society, half price off on all yellow dogs!”

The Bearded One and I don’t want a dog now. Or chickens. Or goats. Just a cat and each other.  We go to the Maku’u Farmer’s Market on Sundays to get eggs and produce and farm honey, and a pizza for him. For now, we’re buying our meat at the grocery store in Pahoa, pasture raised beef, no factory chickens – until we go to Hilo and the Bearded One has to get chicken strips at Safeway. Along with sushi.

I think about these things as I ride my bike over the cinder gravel road, past the new construction.

There are 6 houses going in on our mile-long road. They poured the concrete foundations for two of the kit houses (roughly 1000 sq ft on 1 acre for $200,000) this past weekend. Tiny houses, indistinguishable from the Bearded One’s and my first rental in Seattle 20 years ago.

I get home before the Bearded One, park Pinkerbell back on the lanai and head in. Magic Number? 87%! Such a life.

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The Boy Spouts of America

The Bearded One lifts the empty box Nala came in from the back seat and I shoulder my purse and grab the gallon ziplock bag of my chocolate chip cookies and we head into the veterinarian’s house, which is just another house in our immense subdivision here in Puna, Hawaii. I am a nervous wreck.

Our 8-month-old kitty was spayed today and we’re here to pick her up. I feel like a new mother these days (at age 58) with this new kitty around to nurture. Maybe once engaged, mothering never ends. Besides, everywhere we go there are babies.

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*   *   *

Earlier in the day, our older daughter called to ask for my chocolate chip cookie recipe. She and her husband, the Captain, are having a baby in July which will be the Bearded One’s and my first grandchild and we are over the moon.

Right now they are nesting. The Captain is gardening and working a city job and won’t be fishing this year, and our daughter wants to bake cookies. I tell her I’ll email the recipe. I tell her the story of Nala getting spayed today, how nervous I was, and then I tell her again I will be there for her, that I will fly to Seattle when she comes home from the hospital.

“We’ve decided not to find out the sex,” she says. This is a change. For weeks she’s wanted to know.

“Remember when you were a kid how we used to check the cookie bottoms to see if they were boys or girls?” I ask.

“No!”

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“Lift up the edge – burned bottoms are boys.”

She is appalled.

*   * *

Nala is heavily drugged. She can’t walk a straight line.

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She is helpless and needs to be somewhat contained, and can’t go outside for a day or two. The doctor says she did great in surgery. He is an older white guy with wire-rimmed glasses, sneakers and a sweet smile. I thank him and hand over the bag of cookies.

*   *   *

We get Nala home and settled in a barricaded area downstairs, and when she is sound asleep, we decide to go to the beach, as we often do, to watch for whales. Sure enough, there are several fins and spouts a ways out, so we hang around for a while and watch. Humpback whales come to Hawaii from Alaska in the winter to birth their young.

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The pod moves across the horizon from left to right. Everyone points and shouts when we see a spout, and then we see an extra big spray and a smallish humpback baby breeches for all to see.

“The Boy Spouts of America!” says the Bearded One and everyone laughs.

*   *   *

At home, Nala is missing. We walk in the front door and the barricaded corner is empty. The box she came in is pushed aside, and it is clear she escaped. But where? No way she could have handled the stairs yet. We call her name. Nothing. We search the entire bottom floor, all her favorite places.

Behind the stove and fridge, on the towel shelf —

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— in the bathtub, on the suitcase in the guest room closet, under the stairs. No Nala.

I race upstairs, even though it’s impossible that drunken kitty could be up here. I am frantic.

But there she is. Asleep under the bed, on my side. “There you are,” I say softly.

“Mew,” she says, and goes back to sleep.

If You Give a House a Bed

We are Robert the water guy’s next to last delivery. It’s almost 8pm, we’ve got spotlights on the side of the house, the Bearded One is opening the gate, and I’m standing at the window holding our new kitty, Nala.

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“Mew,” she says, her eyes nocturnal and wide. She wants to watch, too, but is a bit nervous about all these lights. She is comforted just by hearing the sound of my voice, that I am not concerned.

She wants me to tell her a story as we stand here, looking out at the road, the driveway, and the huge pile of bedding soil dropped off earlier in the driveway, a tall pile that looks in the dark to be pointed like a witch’s hat.

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I remember a favorite bedtime story of our kids – If You Give a Moose a Muffin – and riff on it for my kitty.  “Okay,” I say, kissing Nala’s soft head. “This story is called, “If You Give a House a Bed.”

“Mew.”

“If you give an old hippy house a huge pile of bedding soil outside, it’ll want a real inside bed (not inflatable) as well. So you’ll drive into Hilo and buy a Serta Perfect Sleeper queen-sized bed, box spring and frame.

When the bed is delivered, the hippy house will want another one for guests. And then another for the den. But it’ll settle for a couch in the den, one that clicks down into a full-sized bed, so you can watch an occasional Netflix, and also for guests.

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And when this old hippie house’s rooms are all full of beds and couches, it will ask where the washer and dryer will go. You’ll have to trek to Hilo again to buy some concrete and order wood for a free-standing outdoor deck to put the washer and dryer on. Might just vibrate the old house apart, otherwise.

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When you’re building the deck, that old house will notice how dusty and dry the road and yard are getting in the record-breaking heat and drought (9 inches behind normal rainfall for the year and 10-15 degrees hotter for the winter). The dust will remind it of the last El Nino and it will think about what a crazy year it’s been with hurricanes and lava eruptions and now drought.

It’ll ask you to check the water level in the catchment tank. It’s scary if it goes too low. When the old building sees there’s just a foot left, it advises you to order a water delivery to keep everybody happy. $140 for any amount up to 4,000 gallons. The 1550 gallon tank is starting to feel downright tiny.

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Out in the yard, the hippy house suddenly notices the perfect spot for a second catchment tank, so you won’t have to keep paying for water. It tells you to put an ad on Craigslist for a jackhammer man to clear the lava rock from the spot.

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And then it remembers how dirty you get working outside, so the old house, excited and on a roll, insists on an outdoor shower on the deck next to the washer and dryer. It’ll go measure. We’ll need to buy some redwood to build the shower.

Meanwhile, you go inside for a glass of filtered catchment water from your new Berkey water purifier, and sit on the couch/bed. The hippy house is feeling very homey. All it needs now is a cat.

Just then, your son calls and asks if you would like a beloved, tame, gorgeous 7 month old cat named Nala, whose mother is pregnant again. You say, ‘BRING HER!’”

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Nala meows fiercely, and I pet her some more. I hear the heavy water truck coming up the road, unmistakable in the night silence. It’s pitch dark. The stars are popping. Time to wind up the story. “Yep,” I say, “chances are, if you get new beds, inside and out, an old hippy house is going to want at least one cat to go with them. “

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Look What the Cat Dragged In

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“What is going on?”  Garfield freezes and looks at me from the far end of the living room.  It’s early evening.  He is in mid-stride, and has just come in for the night of his own accord without me calling.  Something feels off.  This is not normal.

“I’m thinking,” responds the Bearded One, who studies his cards across from me at the kitchen table and assumes I am talking to him.  We are playing ritual evening card games.

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“Garfield just came in,” I say and put my cards down.  I get up and close the front door.

“Hm.”  The Bearded One never looks up from his puzzling hand of cards.

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It’s just 7pm, but it’s dark and rainy.  Of course that is why the cat came in so early, I think.  I sit back down, pick up my cards, and look into the living room.  Garfield is gone.

“Any day now, Honey Darlin’,” I say to the Bearded One who is taking too long to play.  This faux grumpiness does nothing to hurry him along, of course.  This time of year is all about slowing down some.  And being indoors more.  And being nice.

I cross and uncross my legs, which are tired from harvesting raised straw bed potatoes.

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My fingernails, which I examine at length, are stained yellow from the wet leather gardening gloves.

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The table and kitchen counters are cluttered with seed jars from my seed collecting operation,

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bowls of apples and pears and zucchini, and a pile of peach leathers I just took from the dehydrator.  It’s over.  The harvest is over.  Settle down, I tell myself.  Shift gears.  Be sweet.

Finally the Bearded One discards and I immediately draw a card and am studying my options when — THUNK!

The Bearded One looks beyond me to the living room and says, “What is the cat doing?”

“Sounds like he’s in the bathroom,” I say.  Garfield sometimes explores the lower bathroom cabinet, and he’s adjusting to autumn, too.

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We continue to play.  The Bearded One with an ice pack on his sore lower back, me feeling like the hens that are molting — prickly feathers sticking out, bald spots, ragged and not laying.  We raced for days to beat the weather and are beat up.

WHOMP!  WHOMP!

“What in the Sam Hill?” I snap and turn around.  I don’t see Garfield, but there are several more whomps and I get up.

It’s dark and I’m tiptoeing in my socks and calling the cat when I see his cute little face under the stairs where Ruby’s hidey-hole bed used to be, behind the little liquor cabinet I moved from the kitchen.

“You silly kitty,” I say.  “What are –”

And then I see the foot-long rat tail and the rat ears and waves of horror roll across my every nerve-ending, sparking a soul fibrillation and forcing a ghastly, unworldly shriek, “YEEEE-IKES!!”  I run into the kitchen.

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I can handle spiders, no problem.  But rats, especially big forest rats that grow fat in the aviary and move about on rafters in the barn, these are the creatures of my nightmares.  This one is quite a fine trophy for Garfield, but he has never before brought one into the house.

The Bearded One pulls out the cabinet and reports that the rat, and it is indeed a big rat, is dead.  “Garfield’s eating the head,” he says, completely nonplussed.

Was the rat dead or alive when Garfield brought it in?  We ponder this briefly — surely it was dead — but mainly I want it out of the house, and I want to be the one to do it.  I’m not so afraid of dead rats, and it’s my rat somehow.  “Out of my way, Sweetie,” I say, with love.  “I’ve got it.”

I grab one of my yellow rubber dishwashing gloves, and stand before Garfield.  “Thank you very much,” I say as I take the headless corpse and march out the door and into the dark, wet, cold night.  I look into the even darker forest, which is solid black under the full harvest moon.

“Ah-woooooooooo!” I howl.  I throw the rat as far as I can, deep into the woods.  I hear it fall into the leaves.  Whew.  It’s over.

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Autumn has arrived.  Time for me to come indoors.  I think we’ll start shutting that front door from now on.

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Boards and Bags

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“Mighty fine-lookin’ bean bags you got there,” says the Bearded One.  I’m sitting in the hut at my 1980 Singer sewing machine scowling at the Instruction Manual and trying to complete the simplest project — 8 regulation 6″x6″ Cornhole bags.  I look up.

Ever since the Bearded One proposed last week, he’s been flirting shamelessly — he calls it sinuendo — and I smile, because I’m not really irritated.  “Ha!” I say, and then he tromps up the half-finished new deck stairs into the house and I return to my bobbin problem.

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We’ve got a new project — construction of a horseshoe-esque lawn game called Cornhole, including 2 outdoor game boards and 8 bean bags, for our daughter’s wedding reception in less than two weeks.  Neither of us had ever heard of it before, and thought the name a bit sketchy, but it’s actually a real game and there’s even an American Cornhole Association, and we’ve been asked to make a set for use at the picnic reception.

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The Bearded One’s doing the boards and I’m doing the bags.  And even though I’m wrestling with this machine, it’s truly a minor glitch.  For some reason, we both have seized upon this project and thrown all else — deck construction, gardening, chain-sawing — to the wind.

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Garfield walks past the open hut door to get my attention.  Then he sits on the deck and looks out at the backyard, clearly thinking about Ruby, our late dog, who he would most certainly be pestering right now if she weren’t still dead.

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He returns to the hut doorway.  “Meeee — Owwwww?”  I keep explaining this to him.  Dead means gone forever.  Things are different, or at least more different than usual.  As if he can’t tell.  Ruby was his only other “animal” companion.  Gone.

I’m moving things around.  Like this sewing machine, which I haven’t used in eons.  I set it up out here, where all the deck action has been, around this 4-foot-diameter cedar tree which has a little lagoon between roots and where the hose waters it for hours.  It sounds like a fountain.

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I bought the machine brand new in 1981 and I’ve sewed curtains, window shades, Princess Diana-style 1980s skirts and jackets, and lots of children’s Halloween costumes including a buckskin suit and the famous Batman ensemble.

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Four of the Cornhole bags are cut from leftover buckskin scraps — polyester ultrasuade — and now I’m remembering how hard it was to sew this plushy stuff.  I have to wrestle it under the presser foot so that the little metal table beneath it rocks.  I made the buckskin suit in a little rental house 17 years ago.

The other four bags are denim from the hem of a forgotten skirt.  The officially correct cracked corn I’m filling them with is from our barn,

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where the Bearded One has cut and sanded and stained the two Cornhole boards, the same dark stain as the deck.

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“She’s dead,” I say, “and you are a sweet, sweet kitty.”  He licks his paw then walks away, down the deck steps and out across the dry lawn to inspect the lawn chairs the Bearded One set up for us to watch the meteor shower.  If it’s not cloudy.  Which it probably will be.  But maybe not.

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The screen door at the top of the deck opens and the Bearded One clomps back down the steps with a Coke.  He stops at the hut and peers in, inspects the two finished bags on the table again and raises his eyebrows.  “Yes sir, a matched pair if ever I saw one.”

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The Seventh Bed

Garfield bursts through the just-opened front door.  “Why-why-whyyyyyy?” he meowls. It’s pouring rain, and he feels poor and homeless.  This is the third week the house has been torn up by my annual, end-of-summer cleaning, painting, and general reframing, and now his paws are wet.

He makes eye contact with me and continues.  It’s so wet there are birds bathing in the potholes.  Where is a cat to go for a bit of dry peace and quiet?

“You have six beds!” I say, and head back up the stairs where I’m cleaning the library shelves.  His first bed, a black fleece basket in the cat condo which he just bypassed, is crowded between paint cans.  But he’s got a great bed right here in these shelves.

“Meeeeeee-owwwww.”  The warble cues me that he is quoting the Bearded One from a political discussion earlier in the week.  “Everyone gets to define their own wealth.”  What do I know of his suffering?

“I’ve finished the pink wall in the bedroom,” I say to Garfield, implying that his penultimate fifth bed, the Bearded One’s pillow, is available.

“And the living room has been finished for a week.  Your little brown fluffy kitty bed –” I point to his second bed on the relocated coffee table by my rocker — “is just waiting for you.”

“Nope.”  He shakes his paw.

“And remember, your food is up on the freezer now.”

He pads over to the window sill and hops up.  “Yowwwwwww.”  The request for treats is always unmistakable.

“Okay,” I say and return — I’m just to the landing anyway — to grant his wish.  He hates his food being placed on the freezer, plus he’s been off his treats for the past couple of weeks, perhaps in protest of the transition and changes, and I want to show my appreciation.

As I walk to the window, I see the goats up the hill.  There’s a lull in the rain (3 inches in the rain gauge this weekend) and they have finally ventured out of the barn.  Pearl makes eye contact, and then Sage and finally LaLa.  They are a lot like cats — they hate rain and love to ask for treats.

I see the cornstalks have fallen over in the rain, and the biggest pumpkin, half orange now, pokes up out of the dying pumpkin leaves.

We have a list of Edible and Poisonous Plants For Goats but it says nothing about the pumpkin leaves we now have in abundance.  The internet says pumpkin leaves are supposed to be edible, but ours won’t touch them.  We guess it’s the tiny spines covering the entire bottom surface.  The goats love corn and eat everything but the stalks.  I tell them I’ll come out soon.

“Meow-meow.”  Garfield noses one of the treats I just gave him, then licks it.  Then looks up at me.

“What?” I say.

“Nope.”  He hops down and then trots over to the stairs.  “Meeeee-owwwww.”  He is a very vocal cat.

And I am a patient cat woman, I say to myself.  Perhaps I misunderstood His Majesty.  No, I understand.  Everyone gets to define their own treats, too.

I continue working on the built-in bookcase.  Books flocked with dust, which were once treats, get nosed again briefly, sorted, rearranged.

The new Pink Peach wall in the downstairs bathroom and on the west wall of our bedroom make me happy now.  I love to lie in bed and just stare at the color as the rain pours down.

Garfield yowls when he gets to the top of the stairs and sees beds number three (under my computer) and four (the chair in the second bedroom) are blocked by plastic drop cloths and piled high with clothes for Goodwill.  He has just about had it.

And then he sees his sixth bed, the shelf, is now blocked by a ladder.

He turns and bounds back down the stairs, thumping out his displeasure.

“I have work to do,” I say, officially calling off this cat servicing session, and take a small limp toward the stairs.  My hip is getting better since I’ve stayed off the ladder for several days, but I still favor it.  I’m glad I just have the ceiling fan left to clean.  Once a year whether it needs it or not.  And it needs it.

Garfield crosses quickly in front of me, expert tripster that he is, and I see him at the last second.  I look up at the ceiling fan, then at the cat, and I go sit in the rocker.  He leaps into my lap — the seventh bed.

Into the Woods

It is gloriously sunny — one of the first times this year for us here in the Pacific Northwest — and our forest chicken pen sparkles with 27 healthy, happy white Cornish Rock meat birds.  Not one of our ten laying hens is in the broody box, and Pearl, LaLa and Sage, our three Pygora goats, prance and wag their little tails.

I’m leading a farmlet tour of extended family and friends down the trail and out of the woods when I mention that we lost two meat chicks last week.  One of my relatives stops in her tracks and groans.

“Something dies here every day,” I say.  Everyone laughs nervously, and I scramble to explain.  “Besides the chicks, yesterday’s deaths included a baby rabbit and several mice courtesy of Garfield.”

I don’t say that I actually sat with one of the chicks as it died.  It flapped its wings, and then its beak yawned in death.  Probably some bacteria got it.  This is a normal loss.

The group appears to understand just fine as my commentary on death this week continues.

“Raccoons got all of our neighbor’s ducks two nights ago.  Pulled them right through the fence. That was the same day that Nora Ephron died, but I’m not saying that’s the same thing.”

Everyone nods, acknowledging human deaths are somehow greater but that animal deaths are hard, too, and that you can’t have an abundance of life without death.

Hundreds of ripe red huckleberries hang from giant indigenous bushes.

Our 3-year-old fruit trees — Italian plum, sour cherry, and two kinds of apples — are laden with growing green babies, and the rhubarb leaves are big as umbrellas on thick scarlet stalks.

Six-year-old Red Riding Hood, the only child of the tour, finds an egg in one of the nests.  She giggles and hands it off to her grandfather, jumps on the trampoline, and then she and her mother settle into picking ripe red huckleberries.

Three days later it’s still in the 70s and beautiful.  The Bearded One and I walk the road and a friend stops in her truck.  “Neighbor caught a coyote pup in her trap last night,” she says and shows us the photo on her camera.  “Was trying to catch raccoons.  Had to shoot him.”

“Oh, no!” I say, looking at the cute little carnivore.

“I know,”says the neighbor, “but we gotta let Mama Red know she’s not welcome here.”

The Bearded One saw the big red coyote everyone calls Mama Red crossing the road from our property recently, no doubt scouting our meat birds.  I think of Mama Red discovering her pup’s body.  I see a mental image of a raccoon yanking a duck through a wire fence.

Farm life is raw some days.  We’re used to it.  And so, it seems, we are a good place for comfort.  Our Twenty-Something son calls, and I know something is wrong.  “Mom?” he says.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Monty Carter, remember him?  The music director at Northwest?  He died yesterday.”

I remember a gifted young man, a virtuoso on the piano and a good friend to his students, including our son who played Rapunzel’s Prince in his school’s production of “Into the Woods” five years ago.  He sang the song, “Agony,” with the hilarious punch line, “So much greater than yours!” in his rich baritone voice.

“How did he die?”

“An accident in the Wenatchee River,” he says.  “Drowned.”

We talk about the tragedy of it, his young age of 43, what a loss to the world.  Our son needs me to talk, I can tell this, but I don’t know what to say.

“What’s going on there?” he asks.

“No more chick deaths,” I say.  He is very quiet.

“Your sister called from Spokane this weekend,” I say.  “She’s on vacation, you know.  She was laughing about a conversation she had with her boyfriend’s parents regarding her own parents back in the western part of the state.  Us.  Me.  She said, ‘I told them you were unconventional — a hippie — and were probably this minute running around without a bra making jam.'”

Our son hoots.  I love to make him laugh.

“And you know what?” I say, “she was exactly right!  She’s psychic.  I was making 10 pints of StrawBlue Hucklecherry Jam.  Can I send you some, Sweetie?”

“No,” he says, chuckling, “but I appreciate the offer.”

“Is there another kid from school that you can call?  To talk about Monty, I mean?  Someone from ‘Into the Woods’?  What about the Witch?”

“Yeah,” he says, “Danielle.”

“Call her.  Share your memories.  Keep him alive.”

We hang up and the Bearded One and I head back up the hill once again, stepping over yet another mole Garfield has proudly left for us on the back deck.

Fur — a bit of fluff…

If there were a pill that would make me grow fur, I’d take it in an instant.  Fur is soft, beautiful, warm, and a natural sunscreen.  Furs were used as money here in the Pacific Northwest in the 17th century, like tulips were being used in Holland.  Furs and tulips both have a sensual beauty, a magic, that everyone agrees has value.

We live in a fiber rich environment.  It’s the light, not heat, that triggers shedding, and on this Midsummer’s week when the sun rises at 5:14 a.m. and won’t set until 9:12 p.m., the fur is flying around here.  Fibers stick to our corneas and hang from lampshades.  We inhale them, drink them in our coffee, and watch them float across the room like bubbles.  Clops of fur glued together with sap and seeds dot the landscape.

Actual critter fur samples

But it’s this fur that is the big lure for our three Twenty Somethings, who are all working full-time, real-life regular jobs in the Emerald City this summer, and crave the comfort of fur, as well as long naps and good food, to recover after the work week.  They come here separately or in pairs and sit with the finished-shedding dog and still-shedding cats for hours.

Yes, catS.  Ditto, our younger daughter’s visiting cat, who dislikes our tabby Garfield (a lot, apparently…), is staying with us for ten more weeks until she returns to her duties at nursing school.  We put her on Craigslist and our older daughter, a social media maven, put her whiskers out, but people who want a cat now can have their pick of kittens, and anyone who loves cats and just wants another one already has one, and Ditto just doesn’t like other cats.  AND our daughter just broke up with her boyfriend and needs her cat.  This daughter also wanted to cut her bangs this weekend, an archetypal impulse.  Women cut their hair after relationship break-ups.

The CATastrophe was a month ago now, and the whole upsetting issue is finally resolved.  Ditto has the cat condo and the east side, Garfield has his little trailer house and the west side plus the inside of the house.  In between is Ruby, who they both like, and a spray water bottle which either one will experience with any hissing or growly-prowly posturing.  Détente.  Compliance not optional.  Sort of.  They’re doing better.  We have yet to squirt one of them, but we told both cats and the bottle stays in plain sight.

Ditto in her eastside cat condo

Time-out.  A retreat.  A nap.  That’s what this place is to the kids.  And as they pick up the dozen eggs on their way here on Friday night as I requested, they joke about whether or not we will ever get the chickens, much less the goats.  We explain that we are doing all of our fencing grief up front.

Fencing in front of the goat barn, with coyote-proofing trench which will be filled with cement. In the area where Ruby is, the fencing will go up to the roof. A solid outdoor cage...hopefully coyote and cougar-proof.

We point to the finished hoop house, make them walk through it and check the temperature.  It’s 105 degrees!  Too hot.  Open some doors.

Two-week-old corn and pumpkin plants, started in the hoop house, and transplanted to the garden. I'll let the corn get going and then plant the pole beans next to them so they can climb the stalks.

And then they return to the napping house to pet Ditto and sip a bowl of homemade chicken soup before falling into bed.  Fur, food, sleep.  It’s worth a lot.

CATastrophe

It appeared to be loathing at first sight, as if they were fresh off an unfortunate former life together.  She growled and hissed.  He hissed back and said, “Mama!  Mama!”  I’d never heard him do that before, and it was quite distinct.  I was so excited about having our younger daughter’s cat Ditto here this summer with our cat Garfield and Ruby our Golden Retriever that I kidded about having a little wedding in the hoop house.  At least hang a banner.  Anyway, the story is still unfolding, but the fanciful greetings are off.

Ditto inside the cat condo, Garfield outside

You hope it will get better.  Give it time, at least a few hours.  Keep them separated.  Spend quality one-on-one time with each of them.   Let them eyeball each other and vocalize through the screen door of the enclosed porch we call the cat condo…where we hope they will be roommates.  Ha!  

The low point came on Monday night when we had maneuvered them both into the house.  Garfield nestled with me on the couch.  Ditto was in the kitchen with the Bearded One and our daughter.  Ruby was still outside.  The cats hadn’t seen each other inside the house yet, was our best guess.  Our daughter walked over to me.  She spoke to Ditto, who trailed her.  “Garfield is here,” she said.  And then Garfield spied her and hopped off my lap to say “hi” and play.  Ditto hissed and smacked him with her paw, claws presumedly out.  He smacked her back and then chased her upstairs where she hissed and growled from under the bed.  She spent the night there.

Ditto is exquisite, a loving apartment cat to three nursing students for an entire year.  “She is the perfect cat for me,” our daughter says, “which is why this sucks.  I understand what she wants, like you do with Garfield.”  We all have our fierce, ruthless, feral side.  Our daughter was just now seeing Ditto’s.  Literally.  She had never even heard Ditto’s unsettling, now ever-present, warning growl.

Tuesday morning, Ditto left and we didn’t see her all day.  The Bearded One had spent a couple of days pointedly teaching her the sound of the call whistle we use for all animals, to help her find us if (when) she bolts into the woods, and, ugh, coyotes.  We whistled for her and thought about her as we worked on the hoop house.  The design upgrade is a happy success.  Water does not pool, and the wood slats make it look more like a barn and less like an iceberg.    

The hoop house is 10 degrees warmer than outside, with no sun to speak of, and it's not completely enclosed yet. This week I'm planting lettuce, spinach, radishes and basil.

The rhubarb is going gangbusters, so I also made a pie.  I used my big 9×9 square pan, since my usual round pies have been boiling over.  Which reminds me of my favorite pie joke.  The farmer asks his son what he’s learned at that fancy, expensive college.  The son proudly says, “Pie are squared.”  The farmer shakes his head.  “I knew we was wastin’ our money on that college,” he says.  “Son, CORNBREAD are square, pie are ROUND.”

Pie Are Squared, and it didn't bubble over.

Wednesday morning, I awoke with two spectacular sneezes.  The influx of cat fur blows my mind since Garfield started shedding, and Ditto is a shedding machine.  The fur sticks to the lotion on my face, and I feel tarred and feathered.  But I am a sucker for soft things.

Now Ditto is back, alive after spending the night in the woods, and we’re playing it by ear.  Our daughter heard the two cats yowling at each other early this morning.  Maybe they’ll work it out.  Miracles occur matter-of-factly every day everywhere you go.  Just yesterday Ruby trotted up to us with her mouth full.  (She knows she’s not allowed to eat debris on the road if we’re there practically staring right at her…)  “Drop it,” I said, and she let go a perfect open-face cheeseburger with pickles still on the cheese.  “A Big Mac and fries!”  The Bearded One was thrilled. “Were there any more of those?”  Then we ran into a neighbor who told us that his son was just accepted as a contestant on Wheel of Fortune.  Anything can happen.

A yummy rhubarb cake recipe

Companion Planting

Our younger Twenty Something daughter called this week to report that relationships are work, that she and her boyfriend will be separated this summer because of jobs, and that it feels complicated.  “Sometimes it’s easier to be single,” she said.  I look out at the gardens where the Bearded One and I have been working on separate projects.  Males and females can communicate, I tell her.  If enough different flowers are planted between them to facilitate pollination.

This week I planned the garden according to the principles of companion planting, at least as many of them as I could absorb.  One or two.  The idea is that some plants help each other grow and thrive, while others will hinder.  As with plants, so it is with humans.  Side-by-side, ’til death, or something, do us part.

Principle One:  Like the smell of your companion.  So I moved the chives out of the Circle Garden to the Rings Garden with the other onions and the onion-friendly potatoes, cabbage and broccoli.  Onions are pungent and affect the taste of their bedfellows, plus they stunt the growth of beans and peas.  Oh, and the sweet peas came up this week.  I see little hearts, while the Bearded One points out, seriously, how they look like a row of darts thrown straight down.

Sweet pea -- hearts and darts. Any moles here?

Principle Two:  Split up the work.  In the place where the chives were, on the south side of the new hoop house in the Circle Garden, I’ll plant the “Three Sisters” combination which is corn, beans and squash.  The corn stalks support the pole beans, which return nitrogen to the soil that the corn leeches out, and the squash covers the ground and keeps it moist.  American Indians planted this way for centuries.  An image of The Three Sisters planting technique is on the reverse side of the Sacajawea dollar. 

“I am my own person,” says my younger daughter, still talking about her relationship.  “I am myself, an independent individual.  We are two different people.”  Yes, I say, so true, and with very different perspectives.  While I continue my weeding and plant the snap peas and carrots (with the cabbage, broccoli, and onions), the Bearded One finishes everything about the hoop house that can be finished, but the plastic still cannot go on, he says.  I am impatient for the plastic, I admit.

Twin mole hills near the hoop house.

Principle Three:  Attract sweetness and repel harm.  We are watching Garfield exploring the hoop house.  We really can’t train him not to go on something that’s not there yet, and so we watch him with amusement and a bit of trepidation…I wish the plastic was on, and we could be legitimately keeping him off of it.

Why can’t we put the plastic on? I ask, patiently.  Not bossy.  The Bearded One is in charge of this part of the project, and I am exercising my right to know.

Sometimes I like to know a reason, I say.  Garfield swings from the arches.

And then the Bearded One becomes, before my very eyes, the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, complete with lisp — which he’s been seeing me do for days since I saw it again on YouTube.  Vewy well, he says from the deck, sweeping his hand out across the yard.  I welease the Weason!

The grass is too wet and the circus tent-sized plastic will stick to itself when we lay it out  Also, the wind keeps kicking up.  Oh.  Okay.  I can wait a day.  If I have to.  I guess.

Garfield is a great companion to the gardens on a molecular level.  Five or six a day is starting to be normal.

Mole mortuary with bird feathers

The mason bees aren’t active around the cookie can “hive,” but it’s still cold here.  Most days lately it never makes 50 degrees.  We’ll plant all kinds of flowers among the vegetables, maybe even start them in the hoop house.  Next week.  Once we get the plastic up.  When the timing works.  It’s a two-man job.