Tag Archive | loss

Among the Cleome

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Cleome serrulata, Rocky Mountain Beeplant, wild relative of gardeners’ Spider Flower, is a magnet for native pollinator species as well as honeybees.

Someday, I will find the photo I took of acres of beeplant along the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument when I was a ranger there decades ago. Acres of it! Right next to the river, in a disturbed field. That was my introduction to this native medicinal, dye, and food plant. When I lived in a trailer here 26 years ago, I scattered a native seed mix, including Gallardia, Ratibida, Linum, and Cleome. Of those four, only the beeplant has appeared erratically. Some years there are many, some, like this year, few. Maybe it doesn’t like drought. This particular patch, essentially two large stalks, I let grow in the raised bed between the Mystery Tomato and the Bolting Leeks.

Certain times of day, much of the day, these flowers buzz with the camaraderie of multiple insect species feasting at the same table. What is wrong with us? IMG_6541-109-110IMG_6222IMG_6330-101-102

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I don’t know everything. But it looks like this tiny native bee is shaking or rubbing pollen from a Cleome stamen. Another series of photos shows a big yellow bumblebee stroking the underside of two stamens with her antenna, but for some reason they won’t export. Oh well.

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This juvenile Rufous hummingbird sips the flower, which simultaneously produces fruit and seeds as blossoms continue to bloom and ripen up the stalk.

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Two distinct colors of honeybees inhabit my yard, a range of light bees, and one dark strain.

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I also don’t know the name of this bee, or even if it is a wasp. It’s over an inch long, and I only see it on the Cleome. It usually curls in on itself on these flowers.

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Bye from the Beeplant

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Young hummingbirds, this year’s fast-fledged hatchlings, seem to experiment more with the flowers than adults who’ve become accustomed to the quick-fix of the single feeder that hangs below the deck. They’re trying out the patio pots with red and blue annual Salvia, and the hanging baskets.

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mean… fuzzy wuzzy!

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Next time, the Bountiful Peach Tree.

Amidst loss and chaos throughout the summer, in my personal life as well as in community and country, and around the planet, this peach tree has brought peace and joy. Nurturing and watching from the last snow, through leaf and bloom, drop and grow, these last weeks of ripening, I’ve savored this tree in far and away its most abundant year. It keeps reminding me what’s real. One fruit of the romantic debacle/deception is that it’s driven me deeper into the larger love of my closest friends, my community, and my garden sanctuary. Let me remember to be grateful for love and lessons, every living moment of every day.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Full of Surprises

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My friend Deb is allergic to cats, but has ended up with a few over the years because we live in the country with lots of feral cats and she has a soft heart. Currently she has only one, Shadowcat, who has wormed her way into the house. But last winter a couple of black cats started showing up on the porch, a short-haired bow-legged boy who’d run to greet you, and his long-haired more skeptical sister. We discovered that Deb’s neighbors had moved away and left the young cats behind. Within a few months, the boy was predictably run over, and the girl was adopted.

The friends who adopted the girl left on a long trip a few weeks after they took her home, with our promise that we’d take care of her in their absence. Since we were sort of the reason they adopted her. And because that is the kind of place we live, where we all pick up the pieces. They set up a nice bunch of beds and roosts in their garage, with all the things we’d need to care for her with the utmost convenience, including a free-feed station where she could eat all the kibble she wanted. She was a prickly little thing, hissing at Deb when she tried to pet her, and just ignoring me.

After a week, I thought she was getting too fat on the free feed, so started rationing her to one cup a day. A week later, she was even fatter! I was pretty sure what this meant. So Deb and I hauled her off to the good doctor, who confirmed that she was pregnant.

"In thirty years I've only done five or six C-sections on cats," he said. "I do that many every year on dogs. Don't worry about it, she'll do just fine."

“In thirty years I’ve only done five or six C-sections on cats,” he said. “I do that many every year on dogs. Don’t worry about it, she’ll do just fine. Cut a door or window in a box, give her some privacy.”

“Not just one or two pregnant,” he said, “more like four or five. And you can expect them in two or three weeks, closer to two I think.”

The neighbors were still a month away. They had no idea! Clearly there had been a miscommunication when they’d had her checked out. They hadn’t settled on a name before they left, and gave us license to name her if it came clear to us. We laughed all the way to the vet playing with names, and on the way home the name did come to us: Heidi. Heidi Ho.

I went into midwife mode, committed to building her trust before her time came. If there were any complications with the birth or afterwards I wanted at least a chance of being able to handle her and the kittens. And I wanted to start handling the babies shortly after they were born, so the proud grandparents didn’t come home to a shop full of feral kittens with a hissing mother that wouldn’t let them close.

For a couple of weeks she looked like she had a football stuck inside her sideways. Last week she started that legs-wide pregnant-lady waddle. Then one day the football had shifted.

For a couple of weeks she looked like she had a football stuck inside her sideways. Last week she started that legs-wide pregnant-lady waddle. Then one day the football had shifted.

I brought a quarter can of wet food every day, and sat across the room while she ate. I set up three nest boxes, two carrying crates with blankets, and a cardboard box arrangement lined with towels. I talked and sang to her (“oh she’s da heidi heidi ho!”) and stayed with her for ten or twenty minutes after she ate, watching her waddle around the garage and check out the nest boxes, or sit and clean herself. Eventually she’d take a treat from my fingers and let me rub her head a little, but I never heard her purr and she never wanted a lap or a real petting.

I set up nest boxes.

I set up nest boxes.

Last week I eased into touching her belly while she ate, checking her nipples and letting my hands rest on her swollen sides. On Sunday I felt one of the kittens move, and more action on Monday. Tuesday I opened the garage door and she didn’t come running. Across the room I heard little peeps and mews. Two weeks four days.

As I cleaned the litter box she came trotting across the room. She gobbled her wet food as I snuck a peek into the cardboard box she had chosen for a nest. She ran and checked on me a couple of times but let me take pictures. After she ate she curled back around her babies and let me watch them nurse. I couldn’t get an accurate count the way they were squirming all over each other, but thought I counted eight. I was surprised at how huge they seemed, to have been out of her less than 24 hours. I congratulated her on the wonderful job she had done.

How huge they looked.

How huge they looked for being out less than a day. How had they all fit inside her?

She rolled over and let me watch her nurse.

She rolled over and let me watch her nurse, purring loudly all the while.

Naturally I was smitten the moment I looked in on the little wad of wiggling kittens. But right now my hands are full and my pockets empty. The Colonel always advised me never to take responsibility for more lives than I could manage to care for adequately. I went into this thing knowing that I would not take a kitten out of this litter. I was sorely tempted to think about it, though, after watching them for just a few minutes.

When I checked the pictures at home, I could see there was a little foot that never moved in all the images and videos. Uh oh. A little dead one. So I ran back over, tricked Heidi with another blob of food, and reached in quickly to the back of the box to remove the kitten carcass. Poor little cold dead one. I brought it home and buried it under the peach tree.

There was a little cold dead one.

There was a little cold dead one.

I buried it under the peach tree.

I buried it under the blooming peach tree.

That was my kitten, the little dead one. Holding its cold little body for just a few minutes, stroking the soft dead fur on its little head, looking at its little open paws… I felt a little surge of love and grief. I said a few words about what a good kitten it would have been, such a good cat, how much it would have meant to me, and then covered it with dirt and straw, inside the tree fence so the dogs can’t dig it up. I placed a tiny bouquet of apple blossoms over the grave. A silly tiny thing, but still: one small thing I could do in a world of endless death. Lately I’ve been remembering that child I was at nine, and thinking maybe that was my prime. Before everything else. At nine, I would have buried that kitten with somber pomp and circumstance, deep and heartfelt ritual. And so I did something like that yesterday.

It was so much easier! So much easier to bury a stillborn kitten that could have been mine, than to love and live with it for five years, or ten, or fifteen as I have with other cats, and then lose it to the inevitable death that comes for all our pets before we’re ready. We’re rarely ready for death, even when we’ve had weeks or months to prepare. That first final emptiness when we look at the dead body of a beloved pet, or person, is always a shock, at least for me. So I got that loss over with preemptively, bringing home my share of the litter, living that little moment of might-have-been, and laying it to rest. Whew.

Seven little warm unnecessary adorable kittens.

Seven little warm unnecessary (adorable) kittens.

I went again today to tend the little mama, un petit d’un petit herself, and her litter. While Heidi was eating I took the top off the nest and folded up the damp, birth-stained towel, set in a clean one, and started to move the babies. MWEEE! MWAAA! they shrieked, and she came running. She stepped in and watched anxiously as I hastily, gently, moved them all onto the new bedding and removed the old. Then she curled around them, and I settled the box back over them. She purred and purred on her nice dry towel. Seven of them! Seven little warm unnecessary kittens. Deb and I have already lined up homes for most of them. Maybe, just maybe… Day Two, and already the wheels of rationalization are turning. No! I will not!

Practical Math

The river runs full and red yesterday through Paonia.

The river runs full and red yesterday through Paonia. 

Welcoming snowmelt.

Welcoming snowmelt, roaring down to fill reservoirs and bigger rivers.

Going with the flow.

Going with the flow.

More found time this morning. A phrase I’ve recently become quite fond of. All week I’ve been finding time, or being given found time, which is more accurate I think. A gift from the universe in this peculiar spring; three appointments were canceled last week, giving me hours more time for my devotions. Time added to my days.

This morning, one neighbor planned to come over at ten and pick up some boxes for a yard sale and another was to pick me up at eleven to drive over and look at my fields across the canyon, make plans for him to harrow or mark or do whatever spring maintenance is needed in order for hay to grow bountifully. We awoke a little after eight, when Rocky wanted out; he was prescient. Half an hour later when I had to get up, the rain was starting and the big dogs wouldn’t leave the door. I fed the cat and went back to bed for the half hour until I could give him his shot.

Our new normal. Each morning Brat Farrar gets homemade, raw food, weighed in grams; half an hour later I give him an insulin shot. Half an hour longer, more or less, and I take away any food he didn’t eat, weigh it, do the math, and record how much he ate. We are doing science. The goal of the calculations, and weekly blood draws to measure sugar, is to bring the kitty back into balance. Beautiful Brat Farrar, my special special cat. Always so fragile and timid.

My rancher neighbor called before I was up for real as rain poured down outside in sideways sheets. “I think we should go over and look at those fields now, don’tcha think?” My first belly-laugh of the day. We postponed it til tomorrow. I postponed the yard-sale neighbor as well and settled in for a day of quiet introspection.

Change is afoot in the neighborhood, as the road crew carves a new curve before paving the  county road.

Change is afoot in the neighborhood, as the road crew carves a new curve before paving the county road.

Forsythia fills the window where I park at Small Potatoes Farm to pick up the week's bread from the brick oven bakery.

Forsythia fills the window where I park at Small Potatoes Farm to pick up the week’s bread from the brick oven bakery.

Snow blew down in spirals, an inch in an hour, fat wet giant flakes like daisies spinning from above. After a cup of coffee and a melt-in-your-mouth, gluten-free, ginger-pecan scone from the Brick Oven Bakery, I turned my attention to my neglected kitchen.

Tulips in snow, this fleeting bittersweet beauty. A friend in sunny Florida fights for her life.

Tulips in snow, this fleeting bittersweet beauty. A friend in sunny Florida fights for her life.

This afternoon, I continue cleaning the deepest recesses of the house; I finally accomplished the pantry last week, the mudroom yesterday, and today, that hell-hole corner cupboard left of the sink. With small cardboard boxes salvaged from the recycle pile stacked yesterday, and colorful duct tape, I made small bins for daily cleaners, rarely used cleaners, oils and waxes, dusting all the containers and washing down the cupboard boards before implementing the new organization. I feel desperate to reduce clutter and mess in my life. I believe this ties in with my overall health as it gradually improves. On every level, bringing my life into balance in this season of upheaval.

A candle for Karla.

A candle for Karla.

Before the cleaning frenzy began, I turned on the Found Music and lit candles in loving ritual for friends and family gone, going, or in duress. I’ve spent the day in wholesome cleansing and reflection. For the first time in months I have the energy to tackle a winter-dirty house full of seasons of clutter. Motivated by the music library serendipitously shared by a friend, tunes and artists that I mostly don’t know but songs which suit my endeavor, I move through the day lightly despite the heavy weather.

Through snowy almond blossoms...

Through snowy almond blossoms…

... the apricot is also covered in snow. I watch it all day through the window as snow melts and blossoms show pink, then watch it get covered again. Each blooming tree a singular gift of changing beauty.

… the apricot is also covered. I watch it all day through the window as snow melts and blossoms show pink, then watch it get covered again. Each blooming tree a singular gift of changing beauty.

Snow tapered off in the afternoon. During a break we got out to run around the yard and fill the bird feeders (the dogs the one, and I the other), check the rain gauge, feed a friend’s cat. A cacophony of finches in the feeder trees. How many is that? Practical math: If you add .40 inches of warm water to the slush in the rain gauge and swish it around til it’s all liquid, then pour it back into the measuring tube and have .68 inches of water, what is the water content of the snow so far today?

This evening white rain pelts down again, a hybrid snow and rain that isn’t quite sleet and definitely not hail. Or maybe tiny, tiny hail. I light a fire in the woodstove and prepare a meal, leftover salmon mixed into salad with fresh chives and basil from pots in the sunroom, on a bed of chopped baby spinach and arugula with a ginger/sherry vinaigrette. On the side, one half a Brick Oven garlic bagel toasted, with butter, cream cheese, and thinly sliced farm-fresh red onion. Oh the way we eat around here.

Tonight I’ll decant the kefir I made from kefir grains that Touffic gave me and start a new batch with the organic milk in the fridge. A new way to get probiotics, from an heirloom strain passed on through community like sourdough starter. Bread and yogurt will be the next new staples on my homemade journey.

“You look great,” said Deb when she came to pick up Rocky around three. “What have you been doing?”

Adding gratitude, finding time, subtracting dirt, losing burdens, measuring snow. Practical math. “Rejuvenating,” I said. “Choosing Life.”

Mary holds a margarita.

Mary holds a margarita.

Every day takes learnin’ all over again how to fuckin’ live. ~ Calamity Jane