Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seasonally Challenged

Growing up in far Northern New York, St. Lawrence County, I was deprived of summer. I'm quite serious. And yes, I took the weather personally. I. Was. Deprived. We had about two days that I could identify as summer each year. On those days, as a girl-child enamored of television and all that I saw there but did not see around me, I would put on my bathing suit, rub baby oil on my body and promptly get a sunburn. Every year. As I recall the grown ups would have a clam bake and get drunk. Our county fair was always the first week in August. We prayed for sun. Occassionally there was a nice day. But you could pretty much count on Fair Week being a rainy week. I felt SO summer-deprived [all together now: HOW DEPRIVED WERE YOU?] that, when Mom would send me to Pop Daily's corner market for cigarettes, I took to sneaking out of the house - in the dead of snowy winter - with a coat covering just shorts and a sleeveless top. A couple of times Mom got a glimpse of me putting on my coat and tried to give me hell but I think she was too stunned by it to really lay into me and I was able to make a quick exit. I walked through snow drifts down the block dreaming of tropical beaches.

Fast forward to my adult life and imagine me moving from Virginia, my home of six years, to Port Townsend, Washington. I was counting - big time - on the temperate nature of this coastal town. Imagine my dismay when it never warmed up that summer. I kept finding myself at North Beach at sunset, freezing because I hadn't thought to put on a sweater. In July. So it was no surprise to me when, at the Writer's Conference, Dorothy Allison walked on stage, leaned into the mic and said in her husky Carolina drawl: I brought a bathin'suit. .....I shoulda brought whiskey. And gloves.

On the flip side of my summer lust, is my Christmas tree craziness. I have a reputation, fairly earned, for leaving up my tree a little too long. Used to be I told myself that a couple of weeks before Christmas to a couple of weeks after was perfectly reasonable. Cheery lights and decorations are tools to ward off the blues that come in the darkest days of the year. But then it began not to seem so bad to leave it up through January. Then February, which is, after all, a short month. Next thing I knew I was like some immobile, depressed slug, sitting in my living room, staring at a tree which was devoid of all its needles - in April. Just bare branches sitting on the tinder of a long-dead pile of needles that covered the tree-skirt. "Easier to take off the decorations," I thought! But no. The limbs kind of dried in a contortion that gripped the decorations tightly, forcing me to rip them apart while trying find all the hidden ornaments, yet not break them. This year I just put up a tiny artificial table-top tree. Yesterday I thought about my fellow committee members coming this morning and I picked up the thing by the top and moved it to the garage. It's not literally "put away" but it's out of the living space.

And now there's the matter of planting flower bulbs. Finally, Thursday night, January 28th.,I planted the last of my bulbs. I could give you so many reasons why it took me this long, starting with kitty hospice and ending with soggy soil during the winter rains. The point is I come from the east coast where we plant our bulbs in fall, as in October, maybe early November if the ground hasn't frozen. I've been well-trained. And we've had a mild mild winter for the most part. AND I have garden beds that are quite young and easy to dig in, too. I bought the bulbs from the boy next door in the fall. He had a school fundraiser and I had been meaning to put in some spring blooming bulbs. Then it was a bit late, November, when they were delivered. And the kitty was dying. So after she died and I buried her, Dec. 17, I did plant the tulips and tiger lilies in front of her grave and Lisa Miranda's. That made me happy, to think of pink Angelique tulips adorning their gravesides in spring with pink or red tiger lily varieties nearby in summer. But that was about half of what I bought. So Thursday night, just before dark, I managed to dig five areas up and lay in about sixty assorted daffodils and sixty drumstick magenta allium. My neighbor told me that same evening that something (she suspects raccoons) had dug up all of the bulbs she planted and she wondered how my back yard, which I'd planted in December, fared. I went out to check. My work was undisturbed. Shadow dog has done a fine job of keeping our yard clear of raccoons. But as I surveyed the whole area to be certain, I saw something startling. One tiger lily had sprouted about three inches and was leafing out. I guess I'm not the only one who's seasonally challenged. Good luck little flower!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dog's Don't Think - much!

Oh but she does. The Shadow thinks, observes, is ever vigilant for the dropped crumb or nugget of cheese. Recently I wrote about her "giving me the back" when I did not give her the attention she felt she deserved, which is all of it all the time thank you very much.

Last night our friend Denise was giving Shadow a most excellent massage and Shadow, who'd begun with her head high and tilted back in ecstasy, gradually slid down Denise's leg into a puddle of love at her feet. All this while Shadow was making a sound I call the "growl-purr" which, best I can figure, is akin to orgasmic moaning. Denise never quit massaging her but said sweetly at the same time "oh no, that sound frightens me, don't do that" and Shadow seemed to understand her and modified her moaning immediately. Granted she had to be prompted a couple of times but both times she responded by controlling her sound. It does seem like, when she's in that happy groove, that the intensifying growl-purr will become a bark.

Tonight I made dinner for another friend and as I brought the food to the table, Shadow was very attentive indeed. She knows she will not be fed from the table so she quickly settled down in her bed nearby and snuggled around making happy mouth sounds. Then as I finished eating (a scrumptious wine/parmesan/cream sauce on sauteed veggies and fettucine with a side salad of pears, toasted walnuts, greens and asiago with balsamic leek dressing) I noticed Shadow was curled up beside me, on the floor. "Well, girl, I'm getting up to clear now so you'll have to get some love from Ian as I cannot pet you while I work." I should back track and say that a major milestone was passed tonight when Ian arrived and she did not run and get him a toy and shake her booty shamelessly for attention. She's got his number. He's old hat. You get the picture. But when I left the table she seemed to have heard me and decided to try and get some attention from him. She rose, walked around and sat next to him, head high, waiting. He chatted her up but did not give her oodles of attention. Still she was riveted on him. He had, after all, finished eating and perhaps, just this once, he would give her his plate to lick. (Never gonna happen.) OR he might give her a good scritch. That happens frequently. Suddenly as I fussed in the kitchen putting away the leftovers I heard Ian laugh with delight. "What?" said I. Whereupon he pointed out that when I said "oops" as I poured leftover sauce into a container, Shadow had jerked her head around to see what oops might mean, whether in fact, the oops was a sign of food on the floor. Nothing had actually made it to the floor and she quickly assessed that without leaving her post at his side.

Look, I'm not claiming she has a Shakespearean vocabulary. I'm just saying, she has a vocabulary. If I get ready to go out, she is in gear, at the door, anxious to go with me. If I say, ever so sweetly (because I do hate leaving her behind) "You wait. I'll be back" then Shadow simply turns, walks to her bed and lays down. Usually this is accompanied by a disappointed and human-sounding sigh. Also, if I say "do you want to go outside to poo or pee?" and if she does want out, she trots quickly to the back door. If I have not thought to ask this question and she needs to go she simply stands between me and the door, but nearer to me, and stares at me until I do ask. I imagine you're thinking, well, yes, but it's your tone of voice that gives these things away. Very well. I will start to monitor that and note her response to flat monotone delivery.

Her latest accomplishment is this. She and I have matching pill boxes in the kitchen on the same section of counter. If I open mine (and they are identical) she does nothing. But if I open hers, then pull open the drawer to get a pill pocket to put the pill into, she's on her feet in a jiffy and at my side for her "treat." I don't have to say a word.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lucy's at rest in the Garden

My former husband sent me a New Year's wish that I have a year without losing anyone dear to me. I appreciated that. Last year was unusually full of losses, chief among them my mother. And on December 16th. the final sadness of 2009 came in Lucy's death.(Photo above is about a month before she died.)

Lucy was such an intimate part of my life. From the moment she came to me, in my son Ian's hands, to the last few moments of her life, she brought me a genuine appreciation for the fact that life is tender and sweet as well as something to engage in with deliberate enthusiasm.

The five other cats in our home all cuffed her, hissed at her and ignored her until Lisa Miranda walked away from the unwelcoming party and Lucy followed her closely, shadowing the grown Lisa - and Lisa allowed it. They have been together ever since until Lisa died last July. I believed I'd have Lucy for 4-6 more years as she still seemed kittenish at 16. She was strong, agile and gentle - as healthy as ever. Her breath was the freshest aroma to ever leave animal mouth until her final week.

She liked knocking the small cotton handmade dolls I had on a shelf onto the floor. It was a daily exercise and she delighted in doing it when I could witness the mischief. Once she took down the antique hatpin holder, leaving me to fish hat pins out of the laundry basket. These were never accidents, but deliberate acts, taught her, I believe, by Lisa, who also used to jump onto high places, thread herself among delicate things and never accidentally knock over any of them. But she couldn't resist rolling a pen or pencil onto the floor. Lucy's twist on the game was to go for the human's toys.

She also slept with me virtually every night for sixteen years. I didn't vacation much. Unlike Lisa, who perched on my hip or shoulder as I lay on my side at night, Lucy curled herself discretely into the curve by my side. If I moved, she moved, just enough. She didn't jump and flee. But when I lay down initially she liked to circle me, over my head with each turn she made at the head of the bed. It was cute as heck. As was she. Damn cancer. Until it had her nearly at the end she was still jumping on the bed, still pacing to her food dish and the litter pan, still trying to get on the windowsill. She stopped doing one thing at a time. When she could no longer jump to the bed, she climbed the stairs I made out of wooden boxes for her. When I saw her struggling and slipping at that I made sure I lifted her up and put her on the bed, then on the floor when I left the room. We spent a lot of time together. I got plenty of reading done. And her passing was very peaceful, with me curled around her and telling her what a wonderful cat she was and how much I loved her and that it was okay for her to rest now. I miss her tremendously. I had to get all of her stuff out of the room quickly. I couldn't bear it there without her. And I cannot let the other cats in because it was Lucy's territory. Also, it's probably time I see what it's like to sleep without fur and without having to launder my comforter cover every week.

I have waited until now to write this because I wrote about her before she died and there's not a lot left that I want to say right now. It all seems to be on the feeling level. My friend Diane helped me collect rosemary and bury Lucy in the flower bed under the lilacs, next to Lisa. (I'd thought of the rosemary when Lisa died: "And here's rosemary. That's for remembrance." I believe that's a quote from Shakespeare.) The next day I planted about 90 Angelique tulips in front of the two graves. I'm going to leave two poems here in her memory. I wrote them a couple of years ago, inspired by her singular presence.

Very Special Cloth Dolls from McKinnon Texas

Tumbled from the shelf
onto the floor, again,
Their blank faces stare up at me.
As the detective would say,

“It happened like this:”
“Hello,” said Lucy the cat, “take that. And that. And that.”
And sometimes she hides the baby doll, or the little cloth lamb.
Or a tiny chewed dolly shoe is carried away.

I gather up what I can find, place them back
on the narrow white shelf and not even waiting
for me to turn my back she springs to the window,
steps carefully into the crime-scene and shows me how it’s done.

A kitten flashes from within
her ten-year-old cat body.
And what, I wonder,
will I do with my day?

For Lucy

Starting the day with Billy, again -
deliberate, never-miss-a-thing-Collins
and "The Apple That Astonished Paris" -
I read about wildlife along the road,
how he’s watching in front of his headlights,
straining sight, to avoid careening
into who-knows-what liveliness waits in the dark.

Relentless Lucy circles over the mountain of pillows,
traverses my head, so I’ll pet her as I read.
And some of her is in there now, clinging to his car,
the road, the shadows in the dark. I move to brush
away the threads of gray before I close the book
but stop my hand in time,
so evidence of Lucy is safe among the pages.

Some day when I am not missing her black nose,
when I am not thinking of the soft deep plush, or her tiptoe step,
the thrumming purr, the blocky little body and puggy face;
when I have given up wishing for the touch of her again -
alone in my bed I will be reading Billy and it will be
Lucy I find on the dark and lonely road,
and I’ll wet the pavement with my tears.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Jeepers Creepers

It is winter. Serious winter, though in a temperate area like ours it's hard to tell sometimes. You can be walking up by the Belltower, say, and notice a lone rhododendron in full bloom at the edge of the asphalt parking area on the bluff. Wouldn't you think icy winds off the bay would prevent that? Apparently not. Or driving home from Safeway you might see a big pink rosebush in bloom on Landes Avenue. Some days it's warm, most certainly. Unseasonably warm, it would seem. And then the wind picks up or the temperature drops to around or just below freezing and there's frost and even ice here and there. On a night like that in November, I think it was, I came home late and when I opened the front door a little peeper frog hopped into the house alongside me. I scooped said peeper up and put him back outside. After changing into my robe I came back to the foyer only to see the peeper, head high on the door glass, his gluey hands like suction cups holding him up. I couldn't stand it. Much as I'd worried about the Anna's hummingbirds surviving the freezing temperatures, I felt sure this tiny fellow was begging for his life. I opened the door, pulled him off the glass and deposited him in one of the plants in my garden window. Then,as I lay in bed falling asleep, I got to worrying about the cats. What if one of them found him and ate him? So, in the morning I went to the kitchen to find him and there he was in the dish-drainer. I captured him quickly and put him on a plant on the back deck and just hoped he'd make it.

Fast forward to today, January 8th. I took Shadow walking early this morning and we'd just gotten two houses down the street when it became clear that the huge froggy voices we were hearing were in stereo. There was at least one in the shrubbery on our left, and at least one other in the shrubbery directly across the street from that and they were clearly conversing. I really had to smile. Small as these amphibians are they have exceedingly robust voices! Then as we finished the looping path behind the middle school we came upon another pair, again, on either side of the pathway, ensconced in the blackberry bushes, calling back and forth. Naturally I have no idea what their voices are accomplishing - I hear them but do not understand them. It made me think of Henry Beston who wrote in The Outermost House that:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.