It’s a gorgeous evening – the last Saturday evening in July – and I sit here feeling both incredibly blessed and unsettled. I spent the day doing my own thing, which has helped to tame the unsettled somewhat. First task of the day was puppy class with Daisy, who absolutely ROCKS, despite having the handicap of me as her handler (trainer). It was class number five in an eight week series, and I don’t think I did more than one evening of training with her in the two weeks since the last class (normally weekly, we had a week off with the instructor’s summer vacation). I was pleased with Daisy’s progress overall, even though she (and I) was rusty. One of the other class members said to me today something to the effect of “you’re the best in the class.” Rather emphatically. They meant my handling skills – which I was surprised to hear, as mostly I feel like a klutz with her, usually missing the cues (teaching moments) she’s giving me. I protested a little, while thanking them for their opinion. I do believe that Daisy makes me look good. She’s a good girl, even in her puppy wildness at times. To wit: this afternoon she (at Pal’s instigation) caught one of the two hens that regularly escapes the chicken run. I heard the hen screaming and knew she’d been pinned, and knew it was Daisy. You can’t blame a dog for doing what comes natural, but! I ran to the coop and found her with the hen between her paws, and feathers everywhere.
Thankfully she was just plucking her, not biting down on the hen’s body. I rescued the hen from her clutches, then let the rest of the flock out. Spread the love and all that. It was a good teaching moment, but still more than she could handle, and I tethered her. It will take time, and I’m confident she’ll be fine after a while. She’s not a killer, and most of what she’s doing is triggered by Pal, who is doing his bird dog thing (which often looks very much like a herding dog’s actions). Yes, it’s a circus at times, with the two of them young and full of beans, but both are doing so well. Pal is again following Farley’s trajectory – it was approximately a year before I could trust Far to be loose around the chickens without harassing them overmuch. Being pointing bird dogs they fortunately don’t want to run down and kill the chickens (birds) but sometimes it is a bit of a free for all.
The rest of the day was spent mostly at home – a couple of quick errands with Daisy (she was a good girl at the pet food store) and we headed home. I did a few chores; moved the garage chicks to the chicken tractor, caught up on incoming mail, and worked in the garden some, and tried to figure out what I’m going to do with all my produce!
As July comes to a close, summer seems to have arrived. At least for a few days. While the rest of the U.S. has roasted, and many parts of the country experiencing record breaking high temperatures, the Pacific Northwest has languished in a cool, cloudy, wet spring and summer. At a certain point I just gave up the hope for heat, instead becoming thankful we were abnormally cool rather than abnormally hot. Perhaps this weekend’s beautiful blue skies and breezy warmth will hold for another few weeks, but there have been a few mornings this past week that felt, and even smelled, decidedly fall-like.
The garden started slowly, though this is perhaps because the gardener started slowly, but it’s going great guns now. I didn’t really get things planted until the first week of June. Seeds were slow to sprout, and when they did, growth was slow, with the excessive cloudiness and rain we had in June. But a few crops have adored the weather, and I’m about buried under a mountain of healthy Swiss chard and lettuces, nearly mature beets, and a pretty nice crop of kale as well. The parsley I planted is in danger of being swallowed up between the chard and lettuce. More harvesting ahead!
Down the middle of the garden I have two plots of what I believe are rutabagas, plus some dill coming up haphazardly and several borage plants as well (I love this herb!). Before I planted any of the seeds I purchased this year I went through my collection of old seed packets and collected seeds and, due to the advanced age of some (most were four or five years old), I didn’t expect germination on most of them – and was mostly right. The ones that came up, though, were eager and determined. There was even an old packet of lettuce seeds that came up; a little slower than the fresh seed, but a respectable showing. My sowing method (tossing the seed out) made for an odd mash up of plants, but they all seem happy. Beyond the slugs, which have been voracious, though not as destructive as I expected, I’ve had little problem with pests (knock wood) other than the mole who’s constantly digging out there. A few leaf miners in the chard and beets; I’ve plucked the leaves affected and put them in a bag in the freezer, then send it out with the garbage each week. Hopefully this will keep them from spreading overmuch. Leaf miners are the larvae of a type of fly, and do exactly what their name implies, leaving a squiggly trail of destruction on leafy greens.
I didn’t get the potatoes planted until the end of June, and once they realized they were finally in the ground, they took off. I heeled them in (late) this past week, and will mound some more compost around them this weekend. The beans have been a little slow, but are finally blooming and there are a few miniature beans started. With any luck I’ll have some fresh green beans in a few weeks. The pumpkin plants have taken off, climbing up and over the short fence I put around the garden to keep the dogs, sheep, and chickens out of there. They are a wall of green, and now obstruct my window view of the beehive. There are plenty of spent blossoms with small pumpkins at their base. Time will tell if the bees nearby visited the blooms enough; in another week or so I’ll be able to tell if the pumpkins are set. Then the wait will be on – two months or so to the first frost and hopefully I’ll have a pumpkin or three to harvest.
Today I planted a few more seeds – beets, chard, lettuce, collards, and kale. Though I’m somewhat overwhelmed with greens right now and have been looking up recipes on how to use the beets and chard, and how to freeze leafy greens, I know I’ll enjoy my own fresh vegetables for as long as I can. Except for the lettuce, all of these vegetables can withstand a light frost, so this staggered planting means I’ll be dining on home grown goodness well into fall. And I spent the evening freezing several vats of chard and beet greens – a three step process that will leave me with my own vegetables to enjoy in soups and as sides until next year’s garden is once again producing.
The month has been a tough one for me. There have been some bright spots – getting together with friends and family on various occasions (there’s nothing like a summertime gathering on a warm, sunny evening). But there have been some decidedly not bright spots, too. I think 2011 is one year I won’t be forgetting for a while. Ever. The losses of Cutter and Dinah in the first four months of the year were difficult, but not unexpected. Both of them pushed the envelope of life expectancy for their breed, and as hard as it was to say goodbye, I know I was very fortunate. Less expected was the loss of Paige, my striped British Shorthair cat this month, in the grand scheme of things.
I adopted her seven years ago this month. She was eight years old at the time, a breeder’s retired queen. I was thrilled to get her, though I’m not sure she felt the same. She was tough as nails, and didn’t take any guff from anyone. Her radioactively cute face and cute cobby build made you want to pick her up and squeeze her. She, of course, detested this. As a breed, British Shorthairs are not known for their cuddly demeanor. They prefer four on the floor, as I read in one breed description – stunningly succinct in its accurate description of the breed’s personality (and one of course read after I got her). I thought I’d done my research, but like so many do, I fell for the appearance before I found out the full story. Still, I loved her little round head, and soft, plush coat. She liked attention on her own terms, and it worked for us. She was relatively trouble free in the time I had her – the spay surgery and a quick dental right when I got her, and another, more extensive dental last year. This past spring she seemed to be getting an odd pot belly. I took her to the vet but there was nothing obvious on examination. Blood work was normal and an abdominal tap showed nothing. In the past month it was obvious she had cancer. While I didn’t do any extensive work up to diagnose what kind, the tumor in her belly grew even as she lost weight. It was time to say goodbye – she wasn’t a cat who liked a lot of contact, and extensive surgery and aftercare would be difficult for both of us. At age 15, and seven years almost to the day I got her, she went to hunt mice in the Great Beyond. I was sad, but knew it was the right thing for her. Less than a week later, my dear little Jasper went to join her, in a shocking, unexpected demise.
Jasper joined the family a month or so after I got Paige. I got him from the same breeder – he was an “oops” when her other female British Shorthair escaped for a few days and evidently met up with the local feline Casanova on her brief outing. Jasper and his siblings arrived two months later and the breeder was looking for good homes for them. He was the runt, incredibly tiny and weak when I got him. He had an odd full bellied look, though he’d been wormed twice. It was only when he matured that I realized his odd body shape was due to a profound congenital kink in his spine (he also had two kinks in his tail), bending him sideways at the hip area. It didn’t affect his life other than to prevent him from the ability to jump higher than chair or bed height. He was never able to get onto the counters like the other two cats (who only cruised the counters when I was not home or unconscious). This made Jasper the perfect cat, in my mind. Cutter was completely enamored of him when I got him, and Jasper (then Babykitty) returned the favor after the initial bottle brush fur and hissing and spitting at the monster panting excitedly over him. I had to be careful that Cutter didn’t crush or hurt the little mite in his enthusiasm, but Jasper loved Cutter right back. And Paige, too. Though I’d only had her a month or so at that point, she obviously had more experience than I did and mothered Jasper beautifully in those first months.
In the ensuing seven years, Jasper became my favorite cat. I inherited my former landlord’s cat in 2008 – an orange and white tabby who, once he got over his fear of the dogs, became one of them. Jasper was cute and sweet and had that aloof British Shorthair demeanor. Still, he allowed me to pick him up occasionally and cuddle him like a baby on my shoulder. His tolerance of this was pretty much equal to my need to do it. He really was the perfect cat. He maintained his lovely relationship with Cutter over the years, and would give Cutter neck massages regularly. I don’t think this was altruistic – it fed some need in Jasper, too. When Cutter passed Jasper was left without a dog to massage. He did some massage on my arm (a little painful as he pulled and kneaded – no wonder Cutter would sometimes growl at him) but it wasn’t the same. A few days after Paige died, Jasper went out one evening. Though I raised him as an indoor cat, in the past couple of years he’d ventured outside regularly (once he mastered the dog door at the Carnation house he learned to love the outdoors). Due to his back I didn’t think he could make it out of the fence here. I found out differently. It was a Wednesday evening. I called him repeatedly before I went to bed that evening, but he didn’t come running as he normally did. He loved to mouse, and caught mice and shrews regularly. I went to bed expecting him to be waiting on the doorstep in the morning (spending the night outside had occurred infrequently in the past three years). He wasn’t. Again I called and called. Sometimes the dogs’ activities kept him from running in (eliciting a chase), but this was still unusual. I tried not to worry. I happened to be home that day and called for him every time I went outside. Nothing. I took the garbage to the road that evening and looked around down by the roadside, calling him in case he’d happened to wander too far and was unsure on how to get back home. By Friday morning I was very worried, but still trying to think positive. I placed an ad on Craigslist, sure that this would be redundant in no time. I had to run to the store (I was hosting a family get-together the next day) and left hoping I’d see him waiting on the porch when I got home. I found him when I got home. His body was in the grasses at the end of the driveway. It was obvious he’d been dead more than 24 hours, but I know he hadn’t been there the evening before, nor that morning. Someone either heard me calling him incessantly and/or saw my Craigslist ad and left him there for me to find. I was in shock. My sweet little guy couldn’t this dead gray thing in the grass. I felt down the tail, disturbing several carrion beetles as I maneuvered the body, and found his distinctive tail kinks. It was him. I don’t know how he got out, though I know there are cats that frequent the area at the end of the driveway. I’m sure his adventuresome spirit found a way out and into the trouble I’d tried to avoid for him. The road is an acre away, but it’s a busy road for a curious but naïve small grey cat to navigate.
I buried him next to Paige, still in shock, and reflected on his relationship with her and Cutter, both gone before him. If there is an afterlife, I hope he’s there with them, giving Cutter a neck massage and having his ears washed by Paige. A week later it’s really started to sink in… I’ve come home several times now remembering finding his body, and wondering what he was doing, why he was down there. If I’d known he could get out of the fence I would have been more careful with him. Though he would run from me if he happened to slip outside when I didn’t want him to, surely I could have been more careful. My little sweet grey boy wasn’t jumping up onto my bed, to sleep on my hip or my shoulder. He didn’t curl up with me when I was watching TV this week. Or stand at the door, rubbing up against it, his inside leg lifted up and rubbing against the door or wall as he waited sweetly. Mealtime wasn’t the ritual it had become with his intestinal issues. Peachie – the obnoxious orange and white cat – could eat dry food, so I left the bowl full for him, upset that my least favorite cat was the only one left. But in that I find a measure of comfort. Peach is obviously feeling the loss too. Though he wasn’t especially close to Paige or Jasper, they did curl up together regularly. As the only cat left, Peach has been interacting with the dogs less, when normally he’s curled up with them. He’s been even noisier than usual, complaining even more…or is that me, missing my two quiet Brits. I never heard Jasper do more than a squeak-meow in all the years I had him. I miss his cute little ways, and his cobby and round form I loved, the curve in his spine causing a cow-hocked stance. It’s finally sinking in – that grey cat that I buried a week ago housed my sweet little Jasper for the time he was with me.