Archive | July 2015

Almost Overwhelmed by Growing Things

Spectacularly weird weather continues to give us extraordinary skies, sunrise through sunset and beyond.

Spectacularly weird weather continues to give us extraordinary skies, sunrise through sunset and beyond.

The kittens continue to make themselves at home, gradually extending their territory one windowsill at a time.

The kittens continue to make themselves at home, gradually extending their territory one windowsill at a time.

This morning they claimed the Cradle of Civilization, and because they were too cute in it, and because this is a game of give and take, I ceded the basket and the garden table to them. I made it clear, though, that the tables on either side of that one, and my desk in the corner, are off limits. As they explore the house further each day there is a constant negotiation of territory.

This morning they claimed the Cradle of Civilization, and because they were too cute in it, and because this is a game of give and take, I ceded the basket and the garden table to them. I made it clear, though, that the tables on either side of that one, and my desk in the corner, are off limits. As they explore the house further each day there is a constant negotiation of territory.

Meanwhile the garden roller coaster opened the throttle a long time ago.

Meanwhile the garden roller coaster opened the throttle a long time ago.

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The raised beds, looking north from inside the horseshoe. Dahlias from seed, gladioli, tomatoes.

The raised beds, looking north from inside the horseshoe. Dahlias from seed, gladioli, tomatoes.

The raised beds from the entrance, looking south towards the bush beans and melons.

The raised beds from the entrance, looking south towards the bush beans and melons.

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Tomatillos have set a new burst of flowers after I fed them last week. 

Tomatillos have set a new burst of flowers after I fed them last week. 

I may have made a mistake. I gave bloom food to all the flowers and vegetables last week, and it seems to have done some of them good, the flowers, the squashes, beans, eggplants, but I fear I’ve undone my tomatoes and tomatillos. They’re sending off prolific new shoots with blossoms, and some of that new growth on the tomatillos is turning yellow. What do I add to help them, and should I cut off all those flower shoots? And what should’ve I given them instead of bloom food (1-4-5)? Bloom foods I’ve used before have said “for flowers and fruits.” This one I bought in bulk, and don’t really know much about it. I used the same company’s grow formula (3-2-4) earlier this summer, maybe more than once. I think I also did a bloom feed earlier. I thought that doing it last week would help the fruits that were already on there, but instead I think I may have sabotaged them. Live and learn.

Then I called my next door neighbor, who has a true subsistence garden for his family, and asked him what I’d done wrong. He said his tomatoes are doing the same thing, lots of new shoots with flowers, and he didn’t give them anything. So that made me feel better. He agreed maybe I should cut off the new shoots. I started doing that and suddenly it seemed like I was cutting too much growth. It’s been a hard year for a lot of vegetables, late to go in because of the cold, way too much rain leaching nutrients from the soil early and compacting the beds with some clay in them, then hot and dry baking those beds, then cool and wet, then super windy, then rainy, then hot and dry… Fluctuations.

What's making the tomatillos turn yellow? Is it too much water? Grasshoppers eating stems? Competition from the snake gourd next door?

What’s making the tomatillos turn yellow? Is it too much water? Grasshoppers eating stems? Competition from the snake gourd next door?

Plus the grasshoppers! Everyone is complaining about their plague-like populations. Fortunately in my yard there is so much growth of all the ornamentals, from the wet spring, that they have plenty to eat without doing too much damage to the food crops. Still, I’ve been cutting back spent beds where they’re congregating, and setting out Nolo bait stations every few days. Maybe I’m making a little headway, I can’t tell, but the little piles of Nolo get eaten before the afternoon thunderstorms arrive.

A beautiful combination, Callirhoe involucrata, or poppy mallow, with creeping germander, and full of native bees for the past few weeks. But also, if you look closely, crawling with grasshoppers.

A beautiful combination, Callirhoe involucrata, or poppy mallow, with creeping germander, and full of native bees for the past few weeks. But also, if you look closely, crawling with grasshoppers.

Despite the grasshoppers, there are some nice tomatoes forming, and the marigolds are happily blooming.

Despite the grasshoppers, there are some nice tomatoes forming, and the marigolds are happily blooming.

Our very first little gherkins!

Our very first little gherkins!

And finally, back inside to kittens.

And finally, back inside to kittens. I’m still not sure about their names. I’ve been trying on several different names for each of them in the past couple of weeks. For Ojo, the little black boy, I’ve considered Pepper and Alcide. For the tortoiseshell girl whose working name was Ajo, I’ve considered Garlic, Cinnamon, and Sookie. But in the back of my mind I can’t get past the soft, sweet custart-colored patch on her tummy, and I think I’m going to call her Flan. A as in father, not as in Ann. It sounds as soft and sweet as she can sometimes be, and if the name does make the kitten, I prefer that to a spicier moniker. 

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Kittens, they are each other’s toys, and I have become their furniture. Flies in the windows teach them to jump. The big dog lies on the futon while the girl kitten stalks a fly by his nose. She creeps, she inches forward tensed, then pounces, lightly, on the cushion by his face; he remains still, watching this curious puppy that has several times hissed at him.

Ojo with the beautiful green eyes.

Ojo with the beautiful green eyes.

He's claimed the forgotten dusty shelf in the laundry closet.

He’s claimed the forgotten dusty shelf in the laundry closet.

The little black cat rolls and purrs on my chest as I write. His sister sits on a forbidden table. I disrupt him to go scoop her up and bring her back to my lap in the recliner, disrupting his nap preparations. He almost seems to be jealous of her, curled on my chest, settling for one of the first times on the bed he claimed last week. Eventually all three fall asleep, Stellar where he lay, Ojo in the window bed, and Flan, finally, on the footrest between my feet. I find myself feeling more relaxed and happier than I have in a long time, and I know that living with these little kittens is good for my heart. And if it’s good for my heart, it’s good for my art.

 

 

 

Bittersweet

Sugar, née Stella, gone with Spice to live with Pauline way out in the country. Way out.

Sugar, née Stella, gone with Spice to live with Pauline way out in the country. Way out.

The kittens have all gone to their new homes. It was a whirlwind adventure helping to raise them to three months. Fred and Mary were the best grandparents anyone could have been. It was a privilege and a delight to participate in their unexpected kitten bonanza. Over the course of their short lives they moved up one box, one room, one home at a time from their humble birth in an inverted wine box, to a bigger box, to a refrigerator box, to a storage room in the shop, to free run of the whole garage. Then a couple of weeks ago, Idaho and Spider went to live in first the tack room and now the whole barn at the Bad Dog Ranch; Stella and Blaze were whisked away to live even farther out past Crystal Creek with Pauline, who recently lost her old cat, and renamed these kittens Sugar and Spice; Sammy, née Oreo, now called Benito, stayed at Fred and Mary’s with his mama, once and again called Shelley now that her Heidi Ho days are over. But not before she went into heat not once but twice after the kittens reached six weeks old.

Fred called one morning while Mary was out of town. “Can cats go into heat while they’re still nursing?” he asked. “I think so,” I said, and turned to ask a friend who happened to know. Indeed they can! Patricia said she once fostered a cat who’d gone into heat when her kittens were ten days old! Fred recited the behaviors he was seeing: snappish to him for a couple of days, then frenzied (for what turned out to be a week) whenever she saw him, weaving around his feet yowling, rubbing her neck on his ankles or hands with her butt in the air, desperate to get outside; a big black tomcat was hanging around the yard except for a few times when a big orange tom with a white face like two of the kittens’ was hanging around the yard. With due diligence we kept her inside with her babies the whole time. She is now recovering well from the surgery. We have put an end to a long line of feral cats on Fruitland Mesa. And four families in the neighborhood have new adorable companion animals. The little all-black boy kitten Ojo, and Ajo, the sweetest girl of all, came to live with me. Things unfold in the most remarkable ways sometimes.

After deciding that morning they were born, after burying the little cold dead one, the eighth kitten, a black and white that surely would have been another boy, that I would not succumb to the temptation to take any kittens, I gradually began to reconsider. Gradually, as in, the next day. I weighed pros and cons for weeks, considering all imaginable angles. On my yes days and on my no days, I always maintained that I would not choose my kittens (if I got them) based on their looks, how cute or how stunning they were. I held off deciding until the whole community was impatient with me. After we celebrated their six-week birthday with champagne cupcakes and adult beverages, I concluded that I couldn’t take any. The next day I was very sad. So I reconsidered again. And again. And we finally settled on this plan: If I could successfully introduce them to Brat Farrar, my dear old diabetic cat, that little orange kitten that saved my soul once upon a time, and assimilate them into the household, I would take two kittens; If Brat would not accept them within one week, I’d return them next door and my good neighbors would find them another home.

And then things became acutely more clear: Doc said it was finally time for Brat Farrar to have some troublesome teeth removed. His blood sugar was good, he seemed strong and stable. I got cold feet, but then agreed to the procedure when I was informed that most kidney and heart failure in pet cats derives from bad teeth. On a Friday I dropped him off; the next Thursday he died. Maybe it was inevitable, maybe some better decisions could have been made. He came home from the surgery in shock and never recovered. With a scabbed mouth he ate a little, but by Sunday morning his vital force was leaving him. Monday afternoon a blood panel revealed multiple organ failure. “So, we’re saying goodbye?” I asked Doc. “Yes,” he said, leaning on his forearms on the exam table. “I’m sorry.” “I know you are,” I said, my voice catching, and I touched his solid shoulder. Some more words, and I took my sweet cat home. I kept him comfortable and witnessed his death with dignity. It was both grueling and peaceful. I came to terms with death in a new way.

All through that painful week I kept in mind that there were two little bundles of joy around the corner that would be mine at the end of this sadness, two new little lives to love and nurture. No one ever takes the place of a companion animal who dies; but in this world of ferals and strays, I’ve realized, there will always be another cat, another dog, a kitten or puppy coming my way, as long as I’m alive. The timing this time could not have been more perfect. As sad as I was I’m now happy.

Benito

Benito, who stayed at home with Mama (once and again called Shelley now that her Heidi Ho days are over).

Ajo, one of the two that came home with me.

Ajo, one of the two that came home with me.

Ojo, the other one who came to live with me, little black brother of Ajo.

Ojo, the other one who came to live with me.

Mama at the end of a takedown, after Ojo pounced on her, vigorously washing his face.

Mama at the end of a takedown, after Ojo pounced on her, vigorously washing his face.

Mama washing Stella.

Mama washing Stella.

Benito (of the perpetual exclamation point!) and Spider romping.

Benito (of the perpetual exclamation point!) and Spider romping.

While I am already enjoying and look forward to years ahead of me inhabiting life with the two new kittens, I’m still unpacking the shocking death of Brat Farrar. Reflections on all that the many facets of the little orange kitten, iCat, Ferrari, Brat Favre, Culvert Kitty, Puma, the complicated cat, brought to the past eleven years of life will continue to churn and settle for some time to come.

the little traveler

The good little traveler: Brat Farrar on his way home from Virginia with me in the Mothership, spring 2005, on the River Road from Moab.

Brat Farrar, the cat of many names and many lives, last April.

A decade later, last April in the house that matched him. Rest in peace, little one, under the apricot tree.