Birth of a Garden

I’ve been promising you some pictures of the garden party palace over on the family property, and here they are at last!

The whole thing started back in March. Or maybe February. Making a garden here in the pygmy is not as easy as it is in most places. First of all, you have to get your friend to bring his heavy machinery over. Then, he hacks up the huckleberry bushes, manzanita, and other various scrubby bushes:

You get to remove the root balls and debris by hand, though. Hours of fun!

After that, your friend comes back and tills through the soil and smooths it out:

Then you spend a zillion dollars on real dirt, which you can (and do) have delivered. Then you make it into raised beds.

Now, the pygmy soil is a dustbowl in the summer and a mud pit in the winter. To help keep the garden from blowing away, you buy lots of hay and purple vetch seeds, which you strew liberally on the spread out hay and hope for the best. The idea is that the vetch’n’hay combo will anchor the soil.

It worked like a charm:

Next, you plant fruit trees (apple and peach) for future shade (and cider making) and almost everything else you can think of: potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, arugula, strawberries, tomatoes, beans…

Of course, all these plants need water. Good thing you have a big water tank:

and that well (the white cap on the left; the cement square is where the pump house was built later) you dug a couple of years ago. And have another machinery-wielding friend who can dig trenches for water pipes:

While he’s at it, you realize that you might as well lay electricity in as well as water, since there’s plenty of room in the trenches. So you do. Then you fill in the trenches.

I forgot to mention that you also need Friend One to dig post holes in the hard soil, and you have to buy posts and deer fencing and then install all the posts with cement which you have mixed and poured yourself. Little details like that.

And you need a couple of gates, one big enough for machinery and one for you to go in and out. Might as well make them pretty while you’re at it.

Rob and Jonathan made the framework for the gate (which they painted blue) and built the planter boxes and lattice (on which our father’s favorite flower, sweet peas, will grow) entirely by hand:

Same goes for this redwood lattice gate:

Just add a fire pit (a repurposed well ring):

a couple of hay bales, barbecues, and you’re ready to party! The enclosure, at 6,400 square feet, is even big enough for camping when you’re finished partying:

We’ve been picking salad from the garden for the past couple of months, and strawberries are beginning to ripen. It’s kind of like magic to just go over there, pick food, and eat it.

We also bought an additional hive for the bees:

Last year, they swarmed before we were ready, so some of the bees moved on to greener pastures somewhere. But enough were left to keep going, and they were thriving enough to need more room this year.

Megan and Jonathan moved some queen cells to the new hive, so some bees stayed in the old one and some moved to the new. There seems to be a little confusion around the entrance of the new hive, but on the whole, they seem to be doing well:

Sometimes when I’m over there, I look around at the garden, the bees, the windmill, the well, the solar panels, and even the tree where little Henry Etta sleeps peacefully and am amazed by how far the property has come with the hard work of my brothers and sister, through imagination and dedication and love.

Chilly Scenes of Winter


Saturday morning hail

Ah, twenty-nine degrees. Bilingually unpleasant, both in Fahrenheit and Celsius. It happens to be the F version here in Hooterville this morning. We knew there was a freeze warning through tomorrow, so I brought in the orchid, fuchsia, geraniums, and marigolds, which were still valiantly blooming.

I also left the heater on at 52 degrees when I went to bed last night – about the temperature it usually is in the house in the morning if I leave the heater off, which I usually do. I heard it come on four times during in the night, meaning it was warming up the house to 52. And that’s just the times I heard.

Roscoe stayed Henry-style in the cozy bed by the heater all night, while Clyde (now being held in my left arm) slept on my pillow and Audrey slept beside me. As an aside, I think Clyde likes her and really wants to be her friend. He’s getting closer. Here they are a couple of days ago:

I’m up so early because I let Audrey out and didn’t want to leave her out there in the freezing cold for hours while I slept and didn’t hear her asking to come in. As I write, the frosty, almost-full moon is shining through the skylight, and I have a blanket around me. And she’s still playing around out there, so I may have once more been The Worrier.

It’s been a wintry kind of week. On Saturday, we had first hail of the season, and of the kittens’ lives. They were fascinated by the sight and sound of the hail, which was accompanied by thunder. I couldn’t see any lightning, but my sister, working an extra twelve hour shift, called me from work to ask me to check on Schatzi (Star was with Rob), and she said they had lightning in town.

I ran over there with a nearly-pointless umbrella, wearing my waterproof sneakers, and Schatzi was asleep, one of the benefits of losing one’s hearing, or nearly so. She was still happy to see me, though, so I petted her for while until she went back to sleep and I slid back home.

Sun Power

The other day, I dropped by my brother’s place to inspect the solar array. That’s what they call it when solar panels are mounted. Who knew?

Of course, since it was my brother and his trusty assistant Rob, the panels were mounted with found and bartered materials. A neighbor lent them the welder they needed to create the hinges and other mounting gear. They learned how to weld from books I ordered from the library. We were all kind of surprised that they had never had to weld before. They both enjoyed learning how.

Here you see the solar panels mounted on the shipping container:

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My brother bought the shipping container when we emptied out Mom’s expensive and distant storage unit last year. Remember how fun that was? Especially for him.

The shipping container now holds that stuff, plus the batteries and other things that convert the sun’s power into electricity to give my brother light and power. I’m really proud of him for getting his power from the sun and water from the well he and Rob dug with their own hands. Plans are in the works for a windmill. More power to them!

Here you can see the hinges and fastenings that had to be welded.

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The solar panels can be tilted at different angles for summer and winter, to take the most advantage of the sunlight. It’s always warmer at my brother’s place, since he lives in a meadow with trees at the perimeter, instead of right in the woods like his sisters do.

Here are other panels waiting for their own array:

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When I had admired everything, I went to say hello to Henry Etta and tell her what had been happening lately. I also weeded around her resting place – still with its driftwood in place – and pulled out the starter manzanita and bull pine that seed themselves everywhere. Then I rearranged the leaves so it looked peaceful again. I find it comforting to know she’s safe and peaceful there.

After that, I took Star for a walk. Among her other qualities, it turns out that Star is what my brother calls “a good ranch dog”. This means that she stays in sight while they’re working and doesn’t get in the way or get startled by things like welding and power saws. Here you see her hanging out while they work:

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After the walk, I got in the car to go home. I soon realized that Star was following me. I stopped, and when I tried to get out, she tried to get in. I started back to where the boys were working, and she came, too. I put her in Rob’s truck, but the windows were open, so she jumped out. I brought her over to the boys and tried to walk away, but she followed me. In the end, Rob held onto her until I was safely out of sight.

The First Year

A year ago today, I moved to Hooterville.

Last year, it was warm and sunny. This year, it’s cold and rainy*.

Last year, I had my beautiful June Bug and my sweet little Henry Etta. Now they are gone, and I have the two rambunctious kittens to make me laugh, drive me crazy, and ease the aching of my heart. My precious Audrey is the same as ever, thankfully.

Last year, I had the moving-related knee injury and the gravity-related full body injury. This year, I’ve managed to remain major injury free (touch wood), though of course there have been the occasional Calamity Suzy incidents. It just wouldn’t be me otherwise.

Last year, I was too injured to go trick-or-treating with Jessica. This year, try and stop me. Erica asked Jessica if she’d rather go with her friends this year. Jessica said, “But Mom! I need my entourage!”

Last year, there was a lot to do in the house and garden. This year, there’s just the bathroom floor to paint, the new heater to install, and plans for the garden for next year. I’d like to have a table and chairs in the garden, and some lounging chairs on the balcony, as suggested by Jessica**.

Over the past year, I have come to appreciate and love my little family even more than I already did. Last night, I thought about how many things that make my house more comfortable and livable were brought to me by Rob. The Suzy proofed loft; the curtain rods; the CD shelves; the cat doors; the towel bars and shower curtain rod in the bathroom, to name a few. Looking around, I am surrounded by love.

*Everyone is blaming me for bringing down some kind of bad weather curse on Hooterville. Maybe Christine O’Donnell can help.

**While doing her homework the other day, she asked her mother if she had spelled “manifest destiny” correctly.

Greening

I’ve been thinking about getting a vine-y plant to twine charmingly around the new-ish rustic window. Of course, I never have any idea what to get, and my plant dreams are about as realistic as my day dreams.

I wanted to grow a Kaffir lime tree and a Meyer lemon (after all, the mean old lady next door had a lemon tree when I lived in Oakland, and if a mean old lady can have one, I should, too) but apparently it’s too cold here in the winter. So I’d have to pot it, which would eventually kill it if I didn’t plant it outside, and keep it inside in the winter. That didn’t seem like an option. Same went for the fantasy of bougainvillea, preferably orange. I’ve loved it ever since I first saw it on the French Riviera thirty years ago, but alas, my life is fated to be non-Riviera in every possible aspect.

Megan brought me down to earth and helped me select a plant that may actually work.

It’s a purple honeysuckle. Rob came by and repotted it for me:

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Clyde found this fascinating, even after Rob started watering it:

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It took a long time before he realized that he was getting wet. Then he was out of there.

Roscoe was completely uninterested, and climbed a tree instead:

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Later, Megan came by and said that the honeysuckle needed something trellis-like to climb on. She also doubts that it will drape picturesquely over the window, but we’ll see about that.

Rob found some tree branches and made a really cool trellis, which looks great with the window*:

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While he was at it, he brought over a clipping from the passion flower vine which covers the back of their house. He also cut down a couple of trees which had partly fallen over from last winter’s storms (you can see some of that in the background of the picture) to give the vine more light:

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Because more light = more flowers. And the flowers are fabulously outer space looking:

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Bonus: they make that delicious orange passionfruit!

Now that I’ve got the house more or less in order (there’s still the hideous lime-green floor to deal with), I’m hoping that next year I can focus on the garden. I’ve mostly cleared out the garden of its weirdness and would like to get a table and chairs, as well as more plants. Right now, it’s mostly rhododendrons and huckleberries. I’d like to have a more inviting outdoor space.

*If you’re wondering what that corrugated panel is, it’s a heavy duty plastic-like thing which lets light into the sleeping loft. It’s behind my bed. You can see a little of it here, behind the sleeping Henry Etta. Those were the days.

Food Fight

As I write, Roscoe is perched on my shoulder, purring and chewing on my diamond earring. The kittens have very exclusive taste in chew toys, preferring diamond earrings and the edge of my iMac to more mundane toys.

I’ve been letting them out at will during the day, though I keep them in after dinner. They are rarely out of sight, and like to run in and out of the house, stopping in for cuddling or napping on Henry’s old bed. I’m really glad that I didn’t give it away after Henry Etta died. I washed it and put it where I wouldn’t have to see it, intending one day to bring it to the shelter. I hope she would be glad to have the kittens enjoy it.

I have never seen kittens so crazed for food. Megan was laughing when she saw them the other day, eating so quickly and intently. “They’re like wind-up toys!” she said. Just a week after I told you my concerns about the boys jumping on the washer to eat Audrey’s food, it happened.

I put the boys outside and closed the door while Audrey nibbled. When she was finished, I let her out a different door, and put the remaining food on a high shelf in the pantry. I let the boys back in, and went to start dinner. I heard a strange sound, and went to investigate.

It was Roscoe the Rascal, eating Audrey’s food.

I took it away and shut it in a cupboard. I almost expected him to go to Mark’s and borrow some power tools to get the cupboard open.

Maybe next week.

Kittens & Kidlet Updates

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First day at school!*

When Audrey woke me up this morning, I discovered that both kittens were sleeping on me. One of them was lying across my neck with his head on my ear. I’m beginning to understand that old wives’ tale about cats stealing one’s breath – they really like to be close to your face. Audrey still likes to sit on my chest with my nose muffled in her fur.

I let her out at 5:15, even though it was still dark out. I put all the outside lights on and hoped that the predators had clocked out early. Mark mentioned that he saw (and heard) a fox in his yard a few days ago. He lets his kittens in and out, day and night, and they are fine, which I’m trying to think of as an encouraging sign about the safety of the great outdoors. His kittens are about the same age as mine. I bet mine are jealous of his. I’m still going to try to follow Dr. Karen’s instructions and keep mine in for another three months. By then, it will probably be raining and they might be slightly less enthusiastic about the whole idea.

Maybe.

As I write, Clyde is napping on my left shoulder. He was very determined to live up to his nickname today. I put him in Henry’s old bed with Roscoe, and bent over to get my coffee cup from the side table for a refill. Before I could pick it up, Clyde ran up my back and clung to my neck, purring. I carried him with me to the kitchen and poured the coffee. When I sat down to drink it, he settled in and went to sleep.

I hope Audrey gets used to the boys soon. She still sleeps with me, and I make a big fuss over her every time I see her. She’s been out a lot lately, but that may well be because we’re hitting the best weather of the year as well as kitten avoidance. Hopefully they’ll all settle down amicably.

In non-kitten news, yesterday was Jessica’s first day at the local school. When Erica picked her up, Jessica exclaimed, “Mom, that school is a blast!”

*Photo by Erica!

Let’s Hear It for the Boys

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Meet the boys!

Well, the Evil Eighteenth was harder for me this year than it has been in a while. Grief is a strange thing. It can be nine years since you lost someone, and you can feel just as terrible as when you first got the news.

It’s probably because I lost both Henry Etta and June over such a short period of time this year, and my emotions were pretty raw. June’s death was as senseless and sudden as Dad’s was, and I think it reawakened a lot of those feelings.

It took some time to work through them. Fortunately, work has been very busy lately, which is great, since it occupies the surface of my mind (and in my case, surface is pretty much all there is) and helped me get through the days.

While I was busy working, the local Animal Care and Control was busy shutting down. In their infinite wisdom, the authorities decided to move everything to the county seat, a two hour drive away, for those who have a car. That means there’s no-one here to take care of lost or stray animals, or to deal with animal cruelty cases. Not to mention the loss of local jobs.

With the closure of the ACC shelter, the remaining Humane Society shelter was overwhelmed. They had more kittens than they knew what to do with, and I thought Audrey might like some company, so I went to see them with the intention of window-shopping. But I was taken with two little black kittens, who snuggled under my chin and purred so loudly that I thought the neighbors might complain.

The shelter worker told me that no-one wanted the black kittens, so they were two for the price of one. One of the kittens jammed his purring nose into my ear, and I knew I had two new family members.

As I filled out the paperwork, the kittens’ mother was being adopted! The shelter workers said that she was a wonderful mother, and that the kittens were the happiest and most affectionate they could remember having.

It soon became apparent that they shared Audrey’s distaste (and mine, for that matter) for traveling by car, and used the same method of expressing it. As soon as I got them home, I had to bathe them in the sink and apply Nature’s Miracle to the car’s upholstery. I might have to burn the carrier they came in.

Amazingly, they purred through the baths and were notably less upset by their sudden wetness than they were by the car ride. Here you see one of them asleep in the towel:

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He looks a lot like a bat.

Audrey was not impressed with her bargain basement roommates. Here you see her giving them the stink eye:

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Also, she is now making up for all the hissing and growling she didn’t do when Henry Etta moved in. But June and Audrey have always been great at adapting to circumstances, and they’ve been through so much in their lives, so I’m hoping that in time, she’ll accept them and maybe even like them. In the meantime, she can teach them how to be a wonderful cat.

By the way: I’m open to suggestions for names for these little boys!

Random Notes

People complain these days, and maybe rightly, about the downside of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, but there are good things about it, too.

Just this morning, I learned the following on Facebook:

  • A friend and his girlfriend became first-time parents;
  • A friend’s beloved only brother returned safely home from serving in Afghanistan;
  • A friend’s sister had successful surgery for cancer, with a very positive outlook for the future;
  • A friend arrived safely in his native country, to which he is returning after many years abroad, and where he and his long-time partner are building a new home and new life together.

That’s a lot of good news for one day, from all over the world. Way to start Friday the 13th!

Meanwhile, back in Suzy world…

I’m getting swampéed with emails from money managers. One of the trade rags published an article saying that one of our clients might possibly be looking for a new money manager sometime, maybe, and listed my name and email address. Après moi, le déluge. Also, they all seemed to miss the fact that it’s only a possibility, and may or may not happen. No matter how many I answer, there are still more. It’s the Sorcerer’s Apprentice of email!

To escape my inbox, I went to town yesterday. It was still pretty early, thanks to Audrey and the still-invisible mouse, so the Safeway was delightfully unpopulated. You would be surprised by how busy it usually is, considering the town only has 5,000 residents.

I was trying vainly to reach something on an upper shelf, and someone actually came over and helped me. Imagine. I have to admit that I’m not above being a helpless girl when it suits my purposes. I might as well enjoy it, since my cuteness has a rapidly-approaching expiration date of its own.

When I got in line, there was only one person ahead of me. Behind me there was a pushy broad with a giant bottle of Pepsi. Why she didn’t use the express lane, which was wide open and unpopulated at that early hour, is beyond me. Same goes for why she kept shoving her cart into me, including when I was trying to pay for my hard-won groceries. I get extra credit for not saying a thing.

On the way home, I stopped in to see my brother. I had a bunch of mail for him – we all share one mailbox – and I wanted to see how the water heater replacement was coming along. Slowly, it turned out, but hopefully he’ll get it fixed soon. While I was there, I visited Henry, who is sleeping peacefully under her tree, and checked on the bees.

I could see where the phrase “busy as a bee” comes from*, since the bees were very active. You should have heard the happy humming coming from the hive! The returning bees were so loaded down with pollen that they could hardly fly. My brother has given them a little bucket of water with a screen in it, so they can drink without drowning. They seem to be thriving. Now all we have to do is decide how to treat them to prevent mites this winter: the organic way, or the chemical way. We’re leaning toward organic. Though we may lose more, the ones that survive will be stronger. Darwinism in our own backyard.

*Turns out it’s Chaucer! So it’s a very old phrase. I guess bees haven’t changed their ways much over the past 700 years.

Guilty

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Audrey in sunlight and shadow

It was country dark by the time I got home. The city-dwellers among you would be shocked by the totality of the dark, with no streetlights or ambient light other than the stars and a crescent moon.

Driving through the tall redwoods near the end of the drive (we refer to the steep, switch-backed part of the road after Route 128 becomes Highway 1 as “the home stretch”, even though it’s about 7 miles home from there) was quite creepy, with the ancient trees looming over the road, impenetrable darkness outside the comforting glow of the headlights. I tried not to think about Stephen King stories or monsters bursting out of the woods, with varying success.

Arriving at my pitch-black house, I discovered that I couldn’t park in front of it. There was a bunch of chairs blocking the way, so I used Catrin’s space instead. I went inside my house through the surprisingly useful bathroom door on the back porch, closed it, then opened the bathroom door to the hallway. Audrey ran in, and was trapped again for her trouble, as I took a flashlight and unpacked the car.

Once everything was safely in the house, I released my poor kitten and gave her treats. She was very happy to see me. I don’t think either of us enjoyed our day apart. I later learned that Rob came by to check on her, and she was meowing sadly at the door and so lonely that he came back after dinner to sit with her. She’s never been left completely alone before – she always had June Bug, even before she was born – so it must have been hard on her.

I wonder what she thinks about her disappearance. Both girls knew Henry Etta was dead, having sniffed and inspected her, but Audrey must wonder the same way I do. She seems to be adjusting to her nightly imprisonment. She sleeps with me sometimes – which wakes me up with June flashbacks – and although she does claw at the door, especially once day is beginning to break, I just have to suck it up. Better lost sleep than a lost cat.

On the drive home, I thought that this whole nightmare could have been avoided if I had just stood firm and kept them in at night. In retrospect, I cannot believe I ever let my little girls out in the inky blackness full of unseen predators. It literally makes me sick to know that the loss of the magnificent June Bug is entirely my fault and was as preventable and senseless as my father’s death.

Yesterday, Catrin’s cat Fiona wandered in and gave me a shock. Audrey saw her too, and stared for a moment, then ran over to her at warp speed. Realizing it wasn’t June, she shooed her out of the house, and then came over to me to be petted. We sat together for a while, both thinking of our June Bug and, I think, taking comfort in each other’s presence.

Birthday Loot

Flowers from the farmers’ market:

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A beautiful card from the girls:

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So true!

The lamp of my dreams. It’s from Monica’s store of fabulosity, and I have longed for it for months. It was well out of my price range, but Lu and Megan chipped in and got it for me! I cried. It’s handmade, with buttons and iridescent beading:

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A close-up:

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It adds a touch of civilization to the sleeping loft. And it goes perfectly with my duvet cover, seen here, modeled by Henry and June.

Speaking of June: I haven’t seen her all day, and I have to admit to a certain level of anxiety. Unlike most cats, June does indeed come when she’s called – at least, most of the time – and she has never, to my knowledge, let a feeding time go by without paying its due attention. She skipped breakfast, and as I write, I have yet to see so much as her little pink nose or a white paw.

I have called her and looked through the bushes near the house, Junk Alley, and the logging road to no avail. I asked Mark, and he said that she didn’t venture as far as their house, but he’d keep an eye open. I went all the down to my brother’s old house at the very end of the driveway, but nothing.

Given the kitty mortality rate lately (Henry; my friend Dali’s cat Delpi; my niece and nephew’s 18 year old cat Tiffy; and Rose’s lovely old cat Gertie), I can’t help but worry. Think good thoughts that my little June Bug comes home safe and sound. And soon.

Sidelined

orchidMy orchid, beginning to bloom

Like dog, like girl…

Megan was at work on Monday night when she pivoted to her left and felt something pop in her knee. She sat down, and couldn’t get up again. “Uh-oh,” she thought, calling a nurse over. It seems that she has torn the same ligament in the same leg that Schatzi did about a month ago.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case, it was also the most painful. She couldn’t find anyone to cover for her, so she worked the remaining nine hours of her twelve hour shift on crutches, then went home with painkillers and workers’ comp paperwork. She’s not going back to work anytime soon.

Today, she’s off to see the orthopedist so will hopefully have more answers to the questions of what, where, when, how, and how much.

Her knees have been troubling her a lot lately – she’s had surgery on them before – and Rob kept telling her she should get them checked and dealt with, but with the foster dog and ailing dog, it didn’t seem like a good time to do it. Turns out Rob was right. He was also right about Henry. Five days before Henry died, Rob said, “That cat’s not long for this world”. I didn’t want to believe him, either.

Yesterday, I went over to see her and remarked that it was a pretty lousy birthday for her. The birthday barbecue got rained out, and now this happened as soon as she went back to work. She disagreed, saying that she loved the pit bull shirt and watercolor card I gave her, we had a great time at the movies with the girls and at the delayed party; she had her hair cut and got a free massage.

I should look on the bright side more often.

Cat-chup

Thud! Splat!

That was my head exploding and falling off. It’s raining yet again. I can’t remember it raining in May since the evil El Nino winter of 1996-1997, when it rained from September until May, and rained every single goddamn day in February. I worked in a cool old brick building in downtown San Francisco in those days, and the constant deluge took its toll. Rain came down the exposed brick walls, so I had to keep a plastic hood on my computer like a grandma protecting her fresh beauty shop ‘do, and I had no fewer than three wastebaskets collecting rain around my desk.

Sitting here in my sweater by the heater in May just seems wrong. I also have that east coast feeling of “Will winter ever end?” while simultaneously lamenting the fact that the lilacs have already bloomed and gone.

It takes a Suzy.

People have been asking me how June and Audrey are doing. They don’t actually accuse me of being a negligent cat doorman or dumping them in favor of doggier pastures, but I can read between the emailed lines.

AudreyBalconyAudrey catnaps on the balcony

The girls are doing fine. Since they now have the great outdoors, they’re a lot less destructive in the small indoors. They generally come in to eat or nap, though I have seen them napping outside from time to time. I was slightly surprised by that: I thought they went outside to play and hunt, but apparently they also use it to increase their living space, much as we do.

JunePorchExcuse me, you interrupted my bath!

June spends more time inside than Audrey does. June sleeps with me most of the night, pinning down the covers so parts of my anatomy are exposed to the chill night air in her patented manner. Audrey’s in and out all night, though thanks to Rob, I’m no longer the night watchman.

It’s funny how when I first moved, I thought I could bring them in at dinner time and that would be it for the night. In retrospect, I find this hilarious.

I visit Henry at least once a week. She’s safe and cozy under the chinkapin tree. I always bring her flowers and fill her in on the latest news. I miss her so much. She was such good company. I wish we’d had more time together, though as Rob says, it’s never enough time.

Star went to her first obedience class on Wednesday. She was fearful of strangers, barked at kids, and it was generally a somewhat depressing experience. I was surprised, since she adapted so quickly to us and is so friendly and affectionate with us. She’ll go every week and hopefully will improve. We have to get her properly trained and socialized before we can even hope to find a family for her.

Schatzi seems to be doing better. Dr. Karen thought so, and will have another look at her on Friday. Keeping her still is a real challenge. I took care of her yesterday while Megan taught a CPR class, and she followed me everywhere. Finally she settled down on the couch, but you can tell she’s really depressed at being kept inside all the time. A friend of Megan’s is giving her a sort of dog playpen so she can be out on the garden but not wandering around. I’m still hoping we can avoid surgery.

Scofflaw

loggingroadThe scene of the crime

When it’s cold here, it’s usually clear, and as you can see in the picture above, that was the case yesterday (can you spot the Schatz?). I surprised Schatzi in her sunny patch, where she was catching some rays and some z’s (girls are all about the multi-tasking, you see). I let her jump around when she saw the leash, instead of taking the opportunity to make her behave the way my sister would have. There are perks to being an aunt, whether it’s to a kid or a dog.

When we got to the logging road, I let her off the leash and off she went to explore. I love seeing just her tail moving along above the scrubby huckleberry bushes, like a shark’s fin in the ocean.

She always trots ahead of me. You’d think I was the old lady here, though I’m a mere thirty-seventeen to Schatzi’s thirty-forty. But she is very lean, muscled, and strong, and looks and acts about half her age. Kind of like Me. At one point, she turned around to see where I was, and I told her I was coming. She came bouncing up to me and pushed her head against my hand, the universal dog sign for “pet me”.

I did, petting her and talking to her in the crazy lady way I always do when we take a walk (I’m sorry to report that after a recent viewing of the delightful “Top Hat” I was also inspired to sing). She looked up at me with her big brown eyes and I realized that this was the best possibly therapy for a Henry-broken heart. I was so touched that Schatzi actually came to be petted instead of exploring. It had never happened before, and when I told my sister about it, she said that Schatzi had never done it with her, either. I think she knew I was sad and was trying to comfort me.

Off she went again, and I trailed behind her in my official lady-in-waiting capacity, enjoying the unusual sun and blue skies. Coming around a bend, I came across a truck.

Schatzi was past the truck, and I called her. She came running like a racehorse and I clipped her leash on before approaching the truck. Its occupant had a barky dog, but Schatzi didn’t bark. She also sat like a good dog. I was really proud of her.

It turns out that the truck driver is the security guard for the lumber company which owns the logging road and the surrounding land. Rent-a-cops look a little different in the country. I explained that my brother has lived here for 15 years and my sister for 10, and we never knew it was wrong to walk on the road.

He took my name, address, and phone number (I only had to give him the last four digits, since all local phone numbers start with the same three), and gave me his card. He wrote another guy’s contact info on the card and told me to call him to get a permit to walk on the property. Apparently it’s basically a waiver of liability, which I can understand. We shook hands and he went on his way. Schatzi and I headed home. Even though I knew the guy was gone, I felt weird about continuing to walk down the road once I knew I shouldn’t.

When I got home, I dutifully called and left a message. I was rewarded by a phone call at 7:30 this morning, when I was dreaming of not marrying a handsome prince (even when I’m asleep, I never accept the rich guy’s proposal). I took off my sleep mask and ear plugs, picked up the phone, and stared at it for a ring or two. What am I supposed to do again? Eventually I figured it out and I’ll get my dog walking permit in the mail, so Schatzi and I can pick up where we left off.

The Story of Henry

henry1The first picture I ever took of Henry, May 9, 2008

You might have noticed that there’s a new category. Much as I did when I heard the news of Rita Belle’s death, I decided to pay tribute to my beloved Henry Etta James with her own category. You can follow all our adventures there.

In going through my archives, I see that my earliest mention of Henry was shortly after I moved to Oakland, as a beat-up stray cat who hung out on my garage roof (I thought she was a boy until this past December. I have a history of not being able to tell boy cats from girl cats). A few months later, there was the first of many heat waves, and I was inspired to give the stray cat cool water.

It was the thin edge of the wedge. If I was giving her water, why not food? And as my attachment to her grew, I bought her a little tent which I set under the rosebush, so she had shelter from the sun and a defense against other cats. That led to the comfy bed under the porch in the summer and the couch with a blanket on the porch in the winter.

About a year after I started taking care of her, I was able to pet her. And when I moved from Oakland to the country, I brought her with me. I still think she knew I was leaving and wanted to make sure she came, too.

In reading over my many entries about her, I am struck by how our relationship proceeded cautiously at first, but speeded up dramatically after we moved. It’s as if she knew she didn’t have much time left and wanted to pack in as much as she could, sitting on my lap, being petted, feeling safe and warm at last. Sometimes I think that she had fought so long and so hard to survive that now she didn’t have to anymore, it all caught up with her and that’s what carried her off on that early spring night.

Now when I crinkle plastic bags in the kitchen, she doesn’t come running, meowing and getting under my feet. I still look at the floor whenever I’m in the kitchen or near the heater, making sure I don’t step on a little grey cat who is no longer there. When I go into the pantry/laundry room several times a day, she doesn’t follow me asking me for food, even when there’s food in her dish. Now that she’s gone, the girls have reverted to their pre-Henry positions of Audrey eating from the bowl on the left and June on the right. I still haven’t had the heart to empty out the litter box or wash her bed, which I don’t know what to do with.

I never imagined when I first brought water to that little stray cat that she would give me so much love. And that I would love her so much in return.

Gloomy

audreycouchCozy Audrey

It rained all day yesterday. In San Francisco, the Giants game had to be postponed for four hours, something which is practically unheard of there. Here the power flickered but stayed on, and the needle on the thermometer hovered dispiritedly at 40 before giving up completely and creeping down into the 30s again around 3:00 in the afternoon. Four weeks into spring, I can’t say that I’m overly impressed with its performance so far.

Audrey drove me nuts yesterday by demanding to go out in the torrential rain, then noticing the torrential rain, and then demanding to be let back in again. She did this five or six times in half an hour, clearly thinking that the rain had gone away each time. Megan says that her dog Jesse used to go out the front door in bad weather, then come back in and go out the back door, just in case the weather was better back there.

So you can see that my job as doorman remains secure. I think the cats think that the cat flap is for nighttime use only, just like the slightly open balcony door used to be. I have yet to see them use it in the daytime, and they will come downstairs and ask to be let out. I wonder if they used the cat flap while I was in the city, or just waited for the substitute doormen to come by. The idea of their changing their habits or being that patient are equally unlikely to me.

Maybe it’s the cold and rain, but the girls have been spending more time with me in the evenings than they used to. Audrey’s been sitting next to me on the couch, as you can see above, for the past three. I wonder if it’s because Henry is no longer here to claim that spot, or because she can tell I’m sad. I have yet to go a day without crying, sometimes at inopportune moments (fleeing to the ladies’ room in the Four Seasons springs to mind, where I startled and slightly alarmed the hapless cleaning lady), and I miss that tiny little cat more than I ever imagined.

Rose’s daughter Catrin brought me a red candle in a glass votive holder to honor Henry Etta. I’ve been burning it every night in Henry’s memory, and when I blow it out, I say goodnight to her. I say it again when I go to bed, looking down on where her bed used to be from the stairs, just as I used to every night. Some habits are hard to break.

I feel like there’s some lesson to be learned from having Henry so briefly in my life, but I have no idea what it is. All I know is I love her and miss her. My little love.

Returned

Well, I’m back in Hooterville.

I couldn’t afford to stay in the city today, or even pick up a pizza on my way to the Golden Gate Bridge, which made me a crabby little crabcake, I can tell you. Especially after discovering that gas is $3.17 there instead of the $3.03 it is up here. Still better than the $3.35 I noticed as I passed the Navarro Store. Yikes.

It was a postcard perfect day as I drove crankily across the bridge. Sailing ships and merchant ships were tootling around on the blue water, the city sparkled in its pastel glory, and Alcatraz looked like an incongruous resort. The city didn’t seem to be at all sorry to see me leave, though I felt the usual pang crossing into Marin, putting San Francisco behind me.

I had the Oakland A’s game on the radio to keep me company. Amazingly, I got reception all the way to Yorkville, when it finally faded at the top of the 8th inning, with Oakland ahead 4-0 (for those who are interested, they won 6-2 to sweep Seattle). By then, I could receive the Coast, which saw me all the way to the local store, where I stopped off to check the mail and get a bottle of wine.

It was so windy at the store that I could barely get the car door open, but bright and sunny.

All was well at my Henry-less hippie hovel. I wish June and Audrey were as excited to see me as I am to see them (Henry Etta was always happy to see me, and ran to the door to be petted). I always miss them when I go away, no matter how short the trip. And this was too short.

Final Farewell

henrytree
The memorial tree

On Friday morning, I turned off the outside lights and stopped to pet Henry on my way to the kitchen. She was lying on her side, paws relaxed, and fast asleep. The room temperature on the heater read 60, which pleased me, thinking that Henry Etta had been warm all night. Lately I’ve left the heat up higher at night for her comfort.

As soon as I touched her, I knew something was wrong. She was cold and stiff. I felt her nose for breath, put my ear to her side to listen for that brave little heart, but all was silent.

I called Megan and wailed the news into the phone. “I’ll be right over,” she said, and she was. By the time she got there, I was kneeling by Henry Etta’s bed, petting her scruffy fur and sobbing “My little love, my little love” over and over again. June and Audrey were uninterested in the drama, wandering in and out of the house and following their own agendas. I kept asking Meg to check if Henry was really gone, even though it was obvious that my courageous little cat had breathed her last.

It looked like she died in her sleep. That last night, I had her up on the couch with me again, petting her and telling her I loved her. I put her in her bed myself before I went up to bed that night. She looked very peaceful.

We wrapped her in a soft, thick blue towel and drove to the property. Jonathan was on his way to work, but he started digging the grave for us. Like many seemingly simple tasks, there is a technique to this. Pick axe first, then shovel. It was pouring, and the heavy soil clayey and sandy. It took a while to dig deep enough to make sure that no animals would disturb her. By the time we finished, we were wet and filthy.

I took Henry from the car and walked her slowly to the tree, talking to her all the way, telling her about her new neighbors, Jed and Bear, dogs who loved cats, and Luna, a cat almost as small as Henry Etta herself. She’s in good company there. I kissed her goodbye and thanked her for her gift of love, for coming into my life. Megan laid her gently in her resting place, and allowed me to start replacing the soil before joining in to help. She apologized for tamping down the soil, but I preferred to think of it as tucking her in and keeping her safe.

I placed driftwood on her grave before we left, and yesterday I added some yellow daisies from my garden:

henrygrave

We’ll plant something permanent there soon.

On the short drive home, I told Meg that I think there’s something therapeutic about digging the grave, getting dirty, wrapping up your loved one, and laying him or her to their final rest with your own hands, instead of distancing yourself from death the way society generally does. And I’m glad I can visit her.

Oddly, she died on the very day she was to go to the vet. Megan called Dr. Karen, and she said that although she could have given Henry Etta antibiotics for the eye infection, whatever she died of was beyond antibiotics or anything else Dr. Karen could have done. She was, after all, a very old cat, and had fought so long and so bravely. Dr. Karen sent me a kiss and a hug, and called later to check up on me.

I’m glad Henry Etta was spared that last trip to the vet, and that she died peacefully in her sleep, safe and warm, knowing that she was so loved. The hard part is going on without her.

My little love.

Goodbye

I found Henry Etta dead in her little bed by the heater this morning.

She looked so peaceful.

It’s amazing what a huge hole a four and a half pound cat can leave in your house, your life, and your heart.

I can’t write any more now. Thanks to all of you who followed her adventures and cared about her.

Starring San Francisco

henrycouch
Spot the kitty!

It’s almost noon, and my battered thermometer claims it’s barely 40 degrees outside. Some of the hailfall is still clinging to icy existence beside the house, and the house is filled with that eerie white snow light.

Megan stopped by yesterday on her way to work and brought my orchid inside so it will survive the cold snap. It’s now taking up valuable real estate beside the stairs, where I brush past it every time I sidle through the 18 inches of space between the refrigerator and the stairs.

The cold, dark weather this week has inspired me to watch a few films noirs from my favorite decade. Last night’s double feature featured my own true love, the City by the Bay. Henry Etta came up on the couch with me, where she relaxed with her head on a pillow, covered by one of my sweaters (see above) as the rain and hail stormed outside.

First up was “Impact” (1949). Though lacking in my favorite credit (“Gowns By”), it made up for it with “Furs By” and “Jewels By” and an apartment in the illustrious Brocklebank Building, where Kim Novak’s character lived in “Vertigo” and the late, great Herb Caen lived in real life. You can rent a little place there for $9,700 a month if you’d like to join that celebrated company.

Brian Donlevy plays a millionaire industrialist going out of town on a business trip. His lovely wife, played by the seductive Helen Walker, convinces him to bring along a “cousin” of hers, who is, in fact, her lover. The lover attempts to bump off Donlevy, but only succeeds in bumping off himself and a gorgeous cream colored roadster in a spectacular crash.

Dazed and confused, Donlevy ends up in a small Idaho town, where he finds a job and a room with the world’s most attractive and least likely garage owner, played by Ella Raines. But when he discovers that his wife has been arrested for his own “murder”, he returns to San Francisco to set the record straight.

Oddly, Helen Walker, whose character engineered a murderous car crash, endured a career-ending car crash in real life. She picked up some GIs who were hitchhiking, and crashed the car. One soldier died and the other two were severely injured, as was Helen, who was tried for murder. She was acquitted, but her career never recovered, and she died of cancer at the age of 47. Her life was more tragic than any movie she ever starred in.

The second feature was the somewhat misleadingly titled “Woman on the Run” (1950), starring the glamorous Ann Sheridan and a cast of unknowns (at least to me). Ann’s husband is out late one night walking their dog when he accidentally witnesses a murder. When the cops arrive and want to put him in protective custody, he thinks they suspect him and “takes a powder”. The police question his wife, and learn that their marriage is on the rocks. The wife learns that her husband has a secret heart condition, and tries to find him before the cops or the real killer do.

The movie ends with a breathtaking and frightening night time roller coaster ride, predating Hitchcock’s carousel horror in “Strangers on a Train” by a year. It was filmed at Playland at the Beach, an amusement park which perched on the dunes of Ocean Beach for nearly a century before being dismantled and replaced by, God help us, soulless condominium boxes. It was great to see it in all its tacky glory, with the terrifying sounds of Laffing Sal (who can still be seen and heard at the Musée Mécanique, now at Pier 45) providing the perfect backdrop to such a scary scene.

And it was wonderful to see that beautiful city in all its glory. Some things haven’t changed at all in 60 years, and others have changed completely. But one thing never changes: the beauty of San Francisco.