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Not Much of a Cat Person...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

I had some time to kill on Halloween evening. 
I love that phrase, "time to kill." 
As if unstructured time were the enemy, instead of one's best friend.
I love having time to kill. It doesn't happen very often for me. I'd taken Liam to his high school for two performances of a play he's in, and I was planning to attend the late show.

So I went to Apex Tru-Value Hardware to buy some peanuts and sunflower for the birds. And there I fell into conversation with someone I recognized. We figured out that he'd been facilities manager at a venue where The Rain Crows had held concerts. We yakked and yakked. And over his shoulder, I could see this little bitty cat. She was walking back and forth on the feed loading dock in a kind of agitated way. 

"Excuse me," I said to my new friend Eric. "This little cat wants to be in on the conversation. Let's walk over and include her."


She purred and rubbed her head around. 

She held up one paw to her breast, like a squirrel. Ohhh my gawrsh.

I stroked her head and pulled on her little ears. "This is Simba," Eric said.
"She drools when you pet her." 

And yep, she was drooling, copiously. The paw kneading, coupled with drooling, intrigued me. I wondered if she associated people and lavish petting with comfort, such as she'd have gotten when she was a kitten, nursing. And maybe kneading her paws, as she did when she was a nursing kitten, made her drool. I dunno. Whatever the neural pathways that made her drool when I loved on her, it was durn cute.

 I was enchanted by this little torti-tabby. I had known it was a female from the get-go, because tortoise-shell coloration is sex-linked. Unusual, and very beautiful, to see it overlain on tabby striping. I really like tabbies. They tend to be super sweet and affable. 

Anyone who reads this blog knows I am a dog person. But if she did not make my eyes itch and my nose run; if there weren't the litterbox thing to deal with, I would have gladly bundled this sweet little number in my arms and taken her home. Chet...well, we'd have worked it out with Chet.  I mean, look at those seaglass eyes! That sweet face! That paw....that drool... But I knew that would make Rita sad. Every day Rita calls the loading dock cats into her office and feeds them the best cat food. Cats with a job. Mousers. The only birds they're going to catch here are house sparrows. That's OK by me. 

Reluctantly, I wound up the conversation with Eric and Simba and drove a short way to the wonderful Marietta Bicycle and Walking Trail. I hadn't gone 50 feet when this little number came hurrying out from under a shrub. I smiled at the superstition about a black cat crossing one's path. It was Halloween, after all! 

It just felt like marvelous luck to me.

OK, Kitteh. What's going on here? Is this Make Zick a Cat Person Day?

 I got the memo from Simba just in time to meet you. Please note my just-washed mittens and tuxedo. Got any room in your car? Wait! Must you be going? 

Yes. I must. You are adorable, but I, Birdwoman, cannot walk in the door with a kitteh. They'd call the nutwagon. Which would come careening around the corner on two wheels and bundle me away.

I proceeded toward the Ohio River, looking for my people.
Ah. That's more like it. 

We heard you were consorting with cats??

Wak wak wak wak wak!!

Seriously, Zick. You feelin' OK? C'mere. Lemme feel your forehead.

I'm OK. Really. It was a momentary, never to be repeated perturbation.

Righto. Dusk's coming, you know, no offense, but we must be moving on toward the roost. Sure you're OK?

Zick. Get a grip. Those were cats. 

I know. I know. I'll be OK. Gotta walk it off. 

The Heavenly Switches

Friday, October 30, 2015


The birding tower on our house, a late load of laundry that hung out overnight.
 All the photos in this post were taken from its top.

Along about Columbus Day I said, "Well, I guess there's not going to be a real autumn this year. The leaves just aren't there. They're going to fall off, still green. Or they'll go brown. Maybe there wasn't enough rain toward the end of summer. Or we haven't had enough light frosts. It's just so dull."

And then, O Me of Little Faith, it began to happen. And happen and happen. And right now it's happening so fast and so fabulously I just can't...
Part of me can't even stand it.
I forget to climb the tower for a few days and I go up there, open the hatch and pop up the top and there's THIS.
All this going on all around. A quiet riot.
Smack for a color junkie. The good stuff, mainlined.

I get overstimulated. I'm restless and edgy and the only thing that helps is going out and staying out.

It's really, truly all too much for me.  These photos, taken while spinning dizzily in the tower, watching the sky wizard throwing the light switch On. Off. On. Half. Three Quarters. 

Everything--the light, the color, the mood--changing moment by moment, second by second! 

The sumac, suddenly afire in the little prairie patch.



Whoa!! Mood swing!

I think I can hear a maniacal cackle. "Here we go! Let's blow their little minds! How about a little WIND, Scarecrow?"

Blow those clouds across. Tear some leaves loose.  Flip the light switch. Make it change so fast their heads snap. Remind them that nothing lasts forever. Or even for a minute. Change, the only constant.

And just like that, the light is gone, covered in cloud, and I stand, considering the trees. These radiant lollipops of color, each one trying on a different dress.  Changing it every morning, every minute. Showgirls, dancing their best, for those who will watch. I remember going over to a friend's house when I was young. They had central air conditioning and a color TV, both things we didn't have.  I was there a lot. Their house was like a big dark walk-in refrigerator, blinds always drawn against the sun and heat. They were from Texas, where people know how to deal with sun and heat.  My friend and I watched variety shows on TV, and I used to marvel at the blinding color of the dancer's dresses. Back then, variety shows had troops of female dancers, and they'd all come out to dance a number midway through the show. An odd concept, now. There'd be a red one, an orange one, a yellow one, a blue one. A green one. Of course in the midst of a sweltering, sticky Virginia summer, I thought all that was pretty wonderful. But I always felt like I'd been released from the hospital when I came out of that house. It wasn't right, in so many ways, to shut myself away from the light. Now I can't sit down to watch TV at all. I hover, pace, find something that needs to be done. There's always something that needs to be done instead.

I stand in the tower, remembering, my eyes roaming over the trees in their pretty dresses.

And then the switch gets thrown again and the lights go ON and I am jolted from my reverie, blown away. Not knowing what to do with all this extravagant beauty, other than to be out, every day, drinking it in, reveling, making low animal noises, groaning with the burden, the need to appreciate now, now, now, before it's all gone. I have to be out. The winds are coming, and the rain.

The Healing Trees: How I Fixed My Aching Back

Saturday, October 24, 2015


So I'm not invulnerable, it turns out. I messed up my lower back bigtime with a perfect storm of 
1. cleaning out, on Wednesday, our dying refrigerator/freezer, hauling three contractor's bags of gone food, and then putting what I wanted to save into the new one and the very next day 

2. filling all paid orders for my jigsaw puzzle. I packed about 40 boxes in a single day. If you've paid via PayPal, they're on their way!! Let me know how you like it!

 Both of these activities entailed a LOT of bending and lifting. Because neither was apparently enough for the Energizer Zicky, I finshed Thursday with a six mile celebratory lope with Chet Baker.

And when we got back after dark Thursday, I found to my great surprise that I couldn't get out of the car without making a high keening noise. I couldn't bend over or even sit down. 
My God. What have I done? I am NEVER sore. Ever. I've run through all that pain. 
Nothing fazes me. 

And now every muscle in my back was howling out loud.

Chet, looking like I felt. (This is what he does when he feels cold and there is no one around to come cover him up. He covers up his nose holes and breathes the hot air and feels warmer all over). 

It's been bad. I am not used to being infirm. What I'm used to is
 testing myself daily and finding myself strong, invincible. Well, I've met my match, and my match is me. I have to say, not being able to sit down is a problem. The only thing that felt OK was moving around, walking. As long as I didn't try to bend over. Or sit down. 
Thank God lying flat on my back didn't actively hurt. As long as I didn't try to roll over in bed, I could sleep. After a year without using it, Ibuprofen and I got close again.

On Friday, I could barely hobble on rising from bed. Shila, always my healer of first resort, gave me some stretching exercises to do which involved lying face-down on the floor and assuming weird positions, lifting my torso, lifting one leg at a time, balling up, arching, flattening my spine. They helped. They helped amazingly, instantly, from the first time I did them. I did them five times over two days, and as I finish this post Saturday evening, for the first time I can sit comfortably, and get up without weeping. I don't hurt any more. If you've screwed up your back, whatever you do, don't just give up, lie down and suffer. Please try these amazing exercises.  
They release the clenched muscles, the ones that are hurting you.

Remember the otolith that got stuck in my inner ear, the one that gave me vertigo? Shila gave me a head-rolling exercise that fixed it. Poof. Like that. This was only slightly less fast and dramatic. And it actually felt wonderful to feel those muscles release. I even heard a loud pop. Mmm. That felt great!

Friday evening I went for a walk on uneven ground. That, we have a lot of. And that often helps an out-of-whack back. Because I was moving very slowly, I had a lot of time to take photos. The shadowed driveway held the promise of an enchanted kingdom, just ahead. 

This is the time of year when just stepping out the door is like the moment Dorothy pokes her head out of her tornado-tossed cottage, opening the door on Oz. 

Who could keep feeling bad when this is going on all around outside?

There's a special right now on red maples. They're at peak, and they're everywhere, and they're stupendous.

Spicebush fruit pale by comparison. You can barely see them against the flaming red maple leaves.

Chet knows how to make me feel better. He strikes pose after pose, holding them until he sees me 
raise my iPhone and take each one.

If you don't believe me, just look at these photos.

Most dogs can't be bothered to stop what they're doing to please anyone. This dog is hooked right into my eye, my brain, my aesthetic.

He knows. 

The light just got moreso.

I flexed my aching back and visualized being whole again, being out of pain. When you're in constant pain, just being out of pain seems like heaven. 

The moon smiled down to tell me I would be OK again, in time. It won't be fast, she said, but it will end. 

A gigantic hickory, as gold as it gets. 

I said it was big. Dog for scale. 

I'm drawn to an odd break in a fenceline tree. I stop to ponder this. I'm especially taken by the tortured broken tree, in contrast with the baby-smooth trunk of the red maple just behind it. I watch the leaf shadows dance on that slick pale bark skin. I look into the aching shattered square the broken tree has made.

Looking down, I see it's been crippled by having fencewire tacked onto it. Then it's grown around the wire, but at what cost? I've little doubt that's why its wood was weak enough to break in this strange formation.
What we do to trees without even thinking about it. Run wire through their waists, because it's easier than sinking a fencepost. 

Looking down into the woods I'm mesmerized by the tapestry of color. Sassafras' mittens of gold against the maples. 

There's a planted patch of rye at the upper border of the field, the dark green slice before the trees to the right. It's been planted for deer, who love to graze on tender grass when they get a chance. And there are three deer there, grazing and resting.
As we walk closer, two of them lie down. Oh. 
So this is where our walk ends.

When we reached the rye field
an emerald runner on autumn's table
Two deer had just lain down
folding thin hocks
and begun to chew their cud.
I couldn't make them run
so I called you to me and we started home
leaving them in peace
And us, aglow in knowing
they had nothing to fear.

And the  moon rose over an open field...

A field like a blanket, rolling down over the hill. The contrails, that ever-present track of man, on a thoroughly man-tracked landscape. And yet to me it's all so beautiful. I do love the hand of man in agriculture, when it's not a soybean/corn/ethanol wasteland.  When it's not eating virgin prairie, but holding open space for meadowlarks, kestrels, woodcock and bluebirds. A good hayfield like this one is a beautiful thing. Ask the meadowlarks.

The same view, later...the smiling moon, higher than a kite.

The little black dog, still making sure I see him posing for me.

Hearing a fluttering in the hedge, I move closer.

A field sparrow pops up, a seed in its bill, to peek at me. I hope I've gotten him in the photo, but I can't tell on my phone. I look for a long time on the laptop screen until I find him. How sweet!! Hint: he's on the left margin of the tangle in the blow-up below. If you click on the photo, you'll get an even larger version.

 What marvelous habitat this is for me and Chet. I feel so much better, having walked this meadow, the same one where I found a shed antler late last winter.
As hard as it is to say goodbye to color like this, I'm already looking forward to walking here, looking for sheds next February and March.

I thrive on the season changes here. October is my favorite month. Spring's too busy, too full, too hurly-burly. October is reflective, alone, and so heartbreakingly beautiful, ephemeral. October is a leavetaking, not a coming on. It's bittersweet. The poet and painter in me has to mix sadness with joy, dreary tones with color. They make the color all the brighter.

I look back at the deer, and they're still lying down. Score one for the walker and her dog. My goal is always to avoid changing the behavior of the animals and birds I observe. If they feel safe enough to lie down and start ruminating, who am I to walk up on them and put them to flight?

These three tulip trees are my second string Three Graces. I don't get to see them as often, but they sure dress up the hayfield.

 Time to head home, little Chet Baker. We'll leave the does in peace.

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