by Sally Miller
"Owww! More like a wild animal than a sixty-nine-year old woman "Owieee . . ."
I walked into the kitchen, knowing my four smart feral cats (who knew 80 words) could hear my cries of pain. "Ooh . . . oh, owiee.
I wanted their softness to comfort me.
5 hours from my first Cipro dose.
I didn't want to deal with their wildness, so I didn't open the door between the kitchen and the back office, where the cats slept on cold nights.
I wasn't hungry so I walked slowly to the front door, where I often enjoyed looking out the top half of the old Dutch door.
That's what I'll do, I'll distract myself. The moon was bright in the southern sky.
Owwww, another round of kidney pain, urethral pain, swept over me. How did he stand it? thinking of my husband from long ago. Day after day, week after week, until their probes and medicines and poisons finally killed him at the young age of forty four. How did he keep from crying out? How did he keep from howling?
And suddenly the answer came to me, the children. He didn't want the children to hear, to know of his pain. He didn't want me to know.
Why was he, a more perfect parent, let die, while I, the much more imperfect one, was allowed to live?
The pain ripped through me, burning the inside of my urinary tube. Owwww! The medicine was beginning to work, after five hours. Burning me like the roof shingle wood preservative in 76 and the flea collars I put around my ankles in 93.
Only this was supposed to help me, not poison me.
Temporary inconvenience for permanent improvement, as my old friend Brice used to say.
Maybe it will help. After all, I'm ready to die if it doesn't, aren't I? Or am I?
On second thought, maybe their soft fur would feel good. I walked back through the kitchen and opened the door to the back room.
Spy, the little girl cat, was the first to come to me. I sat in the desk chair and she rubbed against my leg, not yet knowing she could jump into my lap to be petted. Big Boy was next -- Pinkie Nose I called him fondly -- giving me his little leg love bites (never a real bite, but what I imagine a toothless woman might feel like on a cock). Spats, the oldest, just hovered around, hearing my cries, disturbed, feeling responsible like the oldest one always does.
My cries and moans bothered them all, but the runt Blackie most. Absent for weeks and months at a time off having adventures he was by far the most affectionate when he was home, almost as if he needed to make up for lost time. He stood, withdrawn from the rest, until his brothers and sister were finished with their nurturing and it was his turn. He let me take him onto my lap, and curled up in my arms like a baby. My affection for him helped me draw the focus of my pain outward, and I felt better.
Slightly better than awful.
Or so I thought. I'd brought their ground turkey mixed with dry cat food out onto the porch, and Blackie, the youngest and smallest, who's usually late for meals, came first. "You must be really hungry," I said to him fondly. I enjoyed sitting on the porch and watching the feral cats eat, often petting them and holding them when they were finished.
Spy. the little girl cat came up to eat next, and just then Dave walked from the garden to his van. All of a sudden there was snarling and one cat ran off the porch down the front steps and the other off the side near the cactus. Within seconds there sounded like a territorial cat hissing over by the dumpster. Just a neighborhood cat from the McMansions, I surmised, and never gave it another thought. Eventually Spy came back with her older brothers Spats and Big Boy (fondly called Pinkie because of his large pink nose). Blackie had evidently gotten enough to eat.
Saturday evening I fed the cats out in back, where it was cooler by the pond. I saw Blackie hanging around the brick wall, apparently shy again like he was his first six or eight months of life. Scaredy cat, I called him then behind his back. But eventually he warmed up to me, and now loved to sit in my lap and let me pet him, turning over so I could scratch his belly when he got tired of being rubbed on his back and behind his ears.
"Come on, Blackie!" I called to him, but he just sat and looked at me, and at the food. "You don't look exactly like Blackie. Are you Blackie? You look like Blackie's daddy. Are you here for the holiday? Come on, you can have something to eat." He slowly came up to the bowl I'd set on the back sidewalk.
Spy appeared then and crept slowly toward me, keeping close to the house and away from the black cat, which was only a little larger than Blackie. "It's okay, that's Blackie's daddy!" I told her excitedly. I had seen him only once, a year or more earlier, and had immediately recognized him as the father of the runt of the litter, Blackie. Blackie, though, was now, at a year old, developing a very faint whiff of white hair on his chest, like his momma Boots had had.
"He's come for Memorial Day! He's come for a picnic. He's okay." Daddy turned to me and looked at me with wild but appreciative eyes. Spy slowly went to the bowl and ate with Daddy, though she seemed apprehensive all the while. Spats appeared, and also ate with Daddy, though I had to keep reassuring them all -- "He's okay. That's Blackie's daddy!"
Eventually Blackie showed up, late as usual, and eyed the scene. "That's your daddy, Blackie," I called out to him. He also skirted the house and came to me for comfort and reassurance. "That's your daddy," I told him again. "He's come for a picnic. It's a holiday!"
I knew the cats all could tell the difference between a weekday and a weekend. They always let me sleep later on the weekend, they got special food, and I'm sure they noticed the relative quiet from bulldozers and nearby highway traffic (except for the McMansion birthday parties with fireworks on an occasional Saturday night). But a three-day holiday was different even more, and last year I remember seeing eight or nine cats lined up out in the paddock, watching me, watching the house and the goings on, on both Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Daddy obviously knew it was time to check on his progeny and pick up some delicious food, like many daddies did on holidays.
Blackie stayed by my side until Daddy left the bowl before he was brave enough to venture away from me. He seemed to understand the need for tolerance, but he was too afraid for direct confrontation.
Well, Daddy didn't want to leave. After a couple of days we told him it was time to go home, that he'd extended his stay long enough. Every breakfast and dinner for months after that we told him to "Go home" in a loud voice. But he didn't want to. He had liked our food. Even with the impatience in my voice when I wouldn't let him have any after that first couple of days, he tried to get at it.
I finally had to trap him and turn him over to the shelter, where they had him neutered and released him to a farmer as a barn cat. Like getting an order of protection for an errant daddy.
The geese arriving signals to me that there's no turning back: summer is over, fall is in full swing, and winter is nigh. My assistant and I brought in the plants today that I want to winter over - three lantana, one red, one yellow, and one red and yellow wintered over successfully last year; two nasturtiums of a deep orange-y red; two poinsettias, one tall and full, the other short and fat, artfully arranged together in one pot; an orange hibiscus flower, and a repotted cactus which burst forth from its tiny clay pot with the hearty sun of late summer.
There is much squawking and honking as the geese, usually 11 or more in number, descend on my little farm pond. Full of turtles and frogs and snakes and other living things, it is a frequent stop for wildlife to catch a drink or a bite before going on their way. Deer, fox, an occasional coyote, river otter, or beaver stop by and lend beauty to the observation window in my office, and I check it frequently during the week. Guests often ask to look at the pond, which provides a daily excursion into nature that most people are unaware of, not privy to, or simply ignore.
Even my feral cats, hardly more than kittens, notice the geese, and eventually they will come to associate the geese with the smoke coming out of the chimney and the warmth of the rug in front of the woodstove.
"HOT!" I call out as they get close. "HOT!" Like I would to a child. A warning of danger I know they've learned. They understand many words - Dog, Rain, Storm coming, Dinner, Stay out of the Garden, Stop, and each others' names. Spats let me pet him on his neck tonight; over and over he kept coming near and almost begging for my touch. His fur felt soft but coarse to my fingers.
October 6, 2006
She became more and more reclusive the longer she lived. She didn't have much use for most people. The squirrels and birds appreciated her weekly gifts -- with more on holidays. They celebrated them all together, the solstices, the Christian Christmas and Easter, Jewish Chanukah and Yom Kippur, Valentine's Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July.
Saturday, December 31, 2005
There are two kinds of people who look out my Pond Window.
One looks out on a warm -- about 84Ί -- clear, calm day, and seeing the splotches of lime green painted on my chocolate farm pond, says "Oh, how beautiful."
The other kind looks out and exclaims, "Oh, you have all that algae. Why don't you put something in your pond to get rid of it?"
I survey it all, happy for the frogs and turtles who live amongst the algae, along with hummingbirds and herons, bats and dragonflies, fox and geese. I thank God for providing me with such a variety of wild creatures to learn from.
They hear me when I cough or turn on the lights in the middle of the night, still thinking me a predator, even though we have come to peace with each other. I don't poison them or torture them if they don't get too close to the house. I provide them with an Eden to live in, a preserve to be free in -- as long as they don't get too close to the house. They provide me with entertainment and I have a never-ending array of life to satisfy my curiosity and stimulate my intellectual interest.
I acknowledge myself for having the persistence to find a place -- to align myself with God's wishes? desires? needs? -- to seek out and find a place to heal and help others heal.
We have one of the second kind voted
in (?) as President of the United States.
How do our bodies get too acidic? Too many toxins ingested in various ways that our body can't deal with properly.
Too much cooked food, too much sugar, fat, and animal protein in our food (to say nothing of the man-made chemicals in processed food), too much polluted air, too much impure water and other fluids. Too many pharmaceutical and recreational drugs, including alcohol. Overload for an overworked body and mind. Unless we reduce the amount of toxic materials that make our body acidic, we create the environment in our body for bad things to happen.
That is why in this world we live in today we need to make individual hard choices about how we are going to live our lives. Are we going to continue to eat garbage that big business has shoved down our throats? If so, perhaps we deserve to get cancer and have heart attacks. Are we going to continue to pollute the air with our big cars? If so, maybe we need to find a way to clean up the air.
Flukes don't CAUSE cancer. People do. We need to take responsibility for ourselves and what we do to ourselves. The choice is up to us all, individually and collectively. Be part of the problem or part of the solution.
I'm glad I'm not a
I'm glad I'm not a
I'm glad I'm not a
I'm glad I'm not a
I'm glad I'm not a
tiny little ant
I'm glad I'm me,
and I'm sort of glad
The butterfly is so sensitive
My good friend John
John and I used to sit
I'm so sensitive
If I were a butterfly
July 26, 2003
Some geese are better parents than others. The good parents find an ideal spot for a nest, he keeps a lookout for predators, she lays the eggs, and together they warm and watch until the eggs hatch.
Other geese couples wander around, discussing and arguing. He wants to nest in the front yard, where the grass is greener and more succulent. She wants to nest in the old nest, sat on by many other female geese. But the beaver keeps crashing tree branches down near that location, so they decide to move to the back wetlands, where the peepers live. However, it is too open there, so he convinces her to try the east wetlands, where new grasses are growing. They stay there for a bit, but it is too close to the road pollution, so they decide to try the front yard again, only to be chased out by the lady of the house waving her broom.
Round and round, back and forth they go, arguing and discussing. Eventually they can wait no longer, as the eggs have become very large and uncomfortable in her belly. The eggs are laid in the old nest. As soon as she has recovered she takes a swim in the pond while he keeps guard. But as he is looking out for the beaver, the fox darts in, steals an egg, and eats it. When the gander starts calling to his mate to come help him, the fox darts back and eats the other egg.
The two geese wander around, discussing and arguing, whining and wailing. They decide to move.
April 21, 2003
What if I were a bee
What if I were an ant
What if I were a rabbit
What if I were a squirrel
What if I were a fish
What if I were a groundhog
If I were a bee
If I were an ant
If I were a rabbit
If I were a squirrel
If I were a fish
If I were a groundhog
We can all learn to live
Please. . . .
August 21, 2003
The hard rain had just ended, and the pond was quiet. Several days of intermittent rain had swollen nearby creeks and made the pond water murky brown. Gentle raindrops created small circles on the canvas of the water. It was beautiful.
I sighted the river otter as it swam cautiously near the far shore of the pond, hovering under bushes hanging heavy with wet new leaves. It was much shorter than the huge otter that I'd seen the week before. As a matter of fact, at first I thought it was a baby, a yearling, it was so much shorter. After a forage back onto land, it waded into the water again and swam toward me, letting me get a good look at it. Yes, it was definitely shorter, maybe three or four feet long counting the tail.
As it approached the floating turtle deck (a section of wooden fencing that my turtles use for sunning themselves), it took its first dive. Like a miniature Loch Ness monster the back curved up and so did the long tail. Then down it went and came up with a turtle in its mouth, munching as it swam along. It looked almost like a bear with a fish in its mouth. It took another dive . . . and another.
Suddenly it was gone, only to emerge close to the shoreline on my right, close enough to see without the binoculars I normally use. As the otter pulled itself onto land I could see it was a pregnant female. The big swollen belly reminded me of mine when I was large with ovarian tumor and ascites. She, too, was awkward and ungainly.
After a short rest the otter resumed swimming and munching her way back to the far side of the pond, looking like Ben the giant rat with her wet slicked-back fur.
Maybe turtles soft from being buried in muck all winter are good for pregnant otters, I mused, fulfilling some nutritional need. The cycle of life.
On one hand I hope the otters make their home near my pond. It would be interesting to watch new animals, for turtle and goose behavior have become predictable. On the other hand, it is a little scary. Teeth so big and sharp that they can bite through a turtle shell are something to be reckoned with, especially if I take any more trips out on the pond in the rowboat.
If my visitors were only having spring picnics, even better. Then I can look forward to seeing them again next year.
June 4, 2003
Get out of the drawer
Quick! Run for the sponge.
To the top of the hole
CRASH! Oh, darn,
What a great place for a picnic
"CAW" calls the lookout
Run up the maple tree
Get out of the driveway,
The house is quiet,
If I listen closely enough
March 28, 2003
Ordinarily you can give your kitchen counters a lick and a promise, load dirty dishes into the dishwasher, and wipe the stove from spills but if it's spring, the ant scouts will find that tiny bit of orange juice on top of the cutting board or the piece of sweet cereal that dropped on the floor, and go back to tell the others of the bonanza he's found at your house. Ants are crazy about sweets and will take advantage of ripening fruit of any kind, a lid left out after the hoisin sauce is gone, or the ketchup bottle if you leave it out on the table. Spring is worse because they are looking for a ready supply of food so they can nest and make babies nearby.
I've tried yelling at them. I've tried pleading. I've tried threatening. I've tried rubbing fresh garlic or fresh onion on the counter. I've tried banging a lid on the counter. All to no avail; they keep sending new scouts that always seem to come when you are not in the kitchen.
But I have found, when I get totally frustrated, that my red spray bottle of kitchen cleaner is the perfect anticide. I just spray it on the counter when I first come into the kitchen, ants and all. Using a paper towel to wipe it off, dead ants and all, I feel like I've put a little less poison into the ecosystem than if I had sprayed a bug killer or specific ant poison. One spray usually does it, especially if I continue to be careful with cleanliness.
Speaking of spring, what a perfect time for Canadian geese heading north to find a nesting place in your front yard, especially if you have a pond or creek nearby. Why they can't rest and nest near the pond is beyond me, but I guess they like the cool shade and classy grass in front as much as we do.
As stupid as geese are by human standards, they can be trained. As with children and ants, you have to be consistent. Each morning at 7 (or 6:30 if you're really lucky) the geese will make their morning noises. You'll have to fly downstairs, out the front door (grabbing your broom as you go), and make like a big noisy predator, chasing the geese toward the pond, at least away from the front yard. It helps to wave your arms in a flapping motion and go "Wooh! Wooooh" like Alex's bear did in James Whitcomb Riley's "The Bear Story."
The gander will try to protect his mate by separating from her, forcing you to decide which one to chase. If you continue to go after the female (the one with the biggest belly, swollen with unlaid eggs), most often to get out of your way both will use their wings to do a flying walk. If you throw a small stick in their direction along with the a loud "Wooh" they will often fly off.
After two or three weeks of chasing them out of the front yard at 11 am, 3 pm, and 7 pm as well as in the early morning usually they will decide it's too dangerous a place to nest and will choose a more suitable location.
In some New Jersey towns there are laws forbidding the feeding of geese because of their terribly messy droppings. Where I live, out in the country, there is plenty of natural food and the same messy droppings. Training your geese is the only way to avoid their taking over your private people space.
Mice, also, need to be taught their place. They are most likely to want to come into your kitchen in the fall, to find a warm place to spend the winter, though out in the country they like to sample your cooking any time of the year. In the beginning of my sojourn in the country I tried to consider the animal rights aspect of mouse removal by using live traps. I got my neighbor to empty them on the edge of the property. Sometimes I was catching three or four a day!
Eventually I figured out that they enjoyed the ride out and the run back inside for another ride as much as my teenagers enjoyed lining up for a roller coaster ride at Great Adventure. I made a unilateral decision, then, that my right as an animal of higher consciousness and intellect to have a rodent-less place to prepare food was just as important as the lives of the mice.
Using a Zen idea of what to do before taking the life of another living thing, I declared in a loud voice three times that their lives were in danger if they continued to come into my kitchen. I set my first regular old-fashioned mousetrap (I came to like the "cheese" kind best). Carefully each morning I gathered my captured prey into a plastic bag, trap and all, and disposed of it in the dumpster. Eventually they figured out that my kitchen drawers and cupboards were not such a good place to be, though every fall a new training program has to begin.
Ah, squirrels. those cute fuzzy grey and brown animals that eat nuts and can scamper up trees and jump from branch to branch. They, also, like to find a safe, dry place to winter over and have their babies in the spring. Woe to those who let the fascia boards near the roof line rot and weaken, for they may find those scampering feet overhead for months to come. Once a squirrel family has taken up residence in your attic or crawl space, it is quite trying to get rid of them. They will hang in and protect themselves with fierce determination.
I remember my father telling me about a squirrel that had gotten into their garage when he was about ten. He, also, thought it was cute and fuzzy like the family cat, but when he approached the cornered squirrel to pick it up and pet it, he was attacked, scratched, gouged, and scarred. I was scarred, too, from hearing him tell his story and accompanying admonitions about squirrels.
Once when I had a rotten board covered up in a temporary fashion to keep the birds and squirrels out, one squirrel was left behind in the crawl space over my office. I could hear him gnawing and scratching to the point of my complete paranoia that he would come in through the ceiling and get me. I finally had some local young men crawl in there to set a trap, but by then, he had made another hole and gotten out. Did he learn? Only time will tell.
In the meantime I have set about to replace the rotten boards and large spaces where critters can come in to the house, letting those who do try to come in know that they are not welcome. I have rights, too.
April 19, 2003
return to top
All winter, like a turtle
Or would you rather swim like
I retreated all winter
May 14, 2001
return to top