Tough Decisions

I have been sitting here agonizing over whether the time for Ki Ki’s freedom to be restricted and move her to a winter pen. Yesterday she got in the duck pen and nearly killed a duck, while I struggled to get the snow out of the way to get the gate open and go in and stop her. (That was a battle and a half) Then she killed the last of Jamie’s chickens that they couldn’t catch for the winter. (There was no way I could get over a 4 foot fence in time to stop that one)

This morning she was trying to get into the rabbits as I fixed their waterers and then slipped into the chicken coop while I watered them. (Ever ben trapped in a confined space with 20 frantic chickens and a bobcat? I don’t recommend t. It’s ugly)
I swatted her for the first time in her life. She was as shocked at the swat with the water ladle as I was that my aim was that good. She gave me a look that told me I was DEFINATELTY going to bobcat hell and muttered obscenities as she took off into the snow.

Her prey drive is becoming so strong. So is she. Even though everyone is pretty much caged where she can’t get them, I wondered if the wild cat in her would obsess till she found a way in.I want her to hunt and to feed herself, I just don’t want it to me MY animals.

So I’m sitting here, trying to figure this all out and I notice it’s quiet. Too quiet. That usually means Sophie has sneaked over the fence and is off checking pee mail around the neighborhood. I went in the living room to look for her.
There on the couch was Sophie the Labrador with her bobcat curled against her tummy, both asleep.

Well, maybe the cage can wait a little longer.

Early Snow, Late Squirrels

In all my years doing animals, I never thought I would be bottle feeding squirrels in November. Yet, there I was, getting up last night to feed two little newcomers that were found in a snowbank. They will be fine, it’s just going to take some extra feedings to get them back where they can go all night without one. Now I need to move the older, but not quite ready to go, squirrels into a bigger winter cage on the enclosed porch so I have their present cage for the new ones.

It was amazing though when I got up. I don’t set an alarm. My body just automatically wakes up when there are hungry babies. I opened my eyes and could not understand why the room was so light. Then I realized it was the moon.
It’s been such a rainy fall and then instant winter that we have not seen enough of the moon to even remember that it is full this week. There it was. Huge and silver and casting shadows across the new snow.

After I fed the babies, I stood at the back door as long as I could before the cold forced me back to my warm bed. I heard owls in the distance calling to each other, but that was the only sound in the night. The snow sparkled and shifted from blues to grays and back again. I really couldn’t tell if it was the beauty or the cold that took my breath away.

The bed felt good when I crawled under the electric blanket. I was so grateful to see that moon. It may be many days till we see it again not covered with clouds.
It started snowing Halloween and has snowed each day since. At first it melted before the next fall, but then we got 11 inches last week in just one night. It hasn’t melted since. We are in for a long , long winter, I’m afraid.

Yesterday’s storm brought a flood of calls. The ponds and small lakes are icing over way too early and waterfowl are being caught unawares. As the birds head for more open waters, those who can’t fly are left behind and sadly, there is little I can do for them. I can’t take them all in. I would be over run with ducks, geese and swans. I can’t repair wings long broken and I really have little way to catch them and move them to safer waters. The snow is deep and I am old.

There have been a lot of possum calls, many about juveniles who would normally have a month or more before the heavy snow and cold sets in to finish maturing. Again, I can’t take them all, they would be here all winter and that would require heated water dishes, trying to find pen space, weatherproofing said pens and then shoveling paths to those pens every day. And people have no concept of how much it would cost to feed every animal they want me to take all winter.

Then there is the matter of the bobcat. She is eating almost a pound or more of raw meat a day and if I am to allow her the freedom she needs to become a successful hunter and confident in the forest, I need to allow her as much freedom as possible.
This morning, I let her out for the day and she followed me as I shoveled, hauled hot water to thaw water pans and bottles, put down, pellets, corn, and sweetfeed for turkeys, ducks, geese and deer, Ki Ki followed. She discovered that she can easily slip into the duck pen and ducks are slow, easy prey in deep snow. Now these are my domestic ducks and as far as I am concerned, off limits to her. She didn’t agree.

After a considerable scuffle, a lot of growling and some nasty swipes with her claws. I got her off the duck and in her pen. Then I had to catch the ducks (I think I’m slow, easy prey in deep snow too) and move them in with the turkeys and domestic geese. Not only is that pen much harder to get into, but I doubt she will want to risk dealing with full grown geese coming after her.

Still, she will remain in “Time out” for a few more hours. It’s so easy to think of her as gentle and easy to handle till she get’s angry with you. Then it’s a back to a writhing buzzsaw with teeth.

So after two or more hours outside taking care of Rabbits, ducks, chickens, turkeys, geese, deer, peacocks and the dozen of squirrels and birds waiting for their food. I am frozen. The way it is snowing, I’ll have to repeat the whole process of shovel, thaw and feed, in a few hours.

This is supposed to be my downtime. Please be patient with me when you call about the fox with the hurt paw, the goose or swan with a broken wing or the many possums eating your barn cat food, and I can’t agree to take them. Dealing with adult animals is a whole different process than with babies and winter only compounds it.

I’m old. I’m cold. And I’m bogged down in the snow too. I promise. I’ll do what I can, when I can. In the meantime. Stay warm.

A Bobcat On My Lap

As I’m sitting here wrestling with a purring little buzz saw on my lap, I think of my father.

I always think of him in these cool days of fall. It was his favorite time of year. It was hunting season and he had an excuse to spend every moment he could, outside in the woods.

. But beyond hunting though, Dad had the deepest love of nature I have ever seen. He noticed flowers and bugs and the way the light shone through the golden leaves. He knew every animal track and what they meant. he could see a pile of poop and not only know what animal left it, but what they had been eating and where they found it.
Bobcats were pretty rare back when I was a kid. They had been hunted and trapped to very low numbers. Most hunters only thought of them as predator’s and competition for the pheasants and rabbits they, themselves were hunting.

Not dad. Maybe when he was younger, but by the time I came along to follow him around, he’d learned that everything had it’s place and that predator needed a meal too.

I remember him coming home one fall night all excited. He had watched a bobcat take down a rabbit and it stopped to look at him as if daring him to try and take it away. Another time, he found a mother and her den, but would never tell anyone where it was. He did tell me. He drove me to the hillside and pointed it out from the car window. I wanted to get out, but he said “No one should ever bother a mother and her young”.

So I grew up watching for bobcats. My first encounter was crawling through the brush by the river, to get to my favorite wading spot. As I worked my way under a downed tree, I came face to face with a young cat coming the other way. I’m not sure which of us was most startled. I know we both ran separate ways.
Here on my little farm, I’ve gone head to head with them on a number of occasions, but it’s never that big of a deal. They only stay in one section of their territory for a few days at a time and my losses are small. I’d rather made peace with them, long before I took in my first cat to rehab. My fathers words stuck with me. “The gotta eat too”.

So that brings me to today, a brilliant fall day when the leaves are drifting through the air like huge, chromatic snowflakes….and a bobcat on my lap. It’s not easy to write. I have to keep erasing the blotches of letters that her huge paws make when she slaps or walks across the keyboard. I have long sleeves on and she is chewing with abandon, but never hard enough to break the skin. She is teething and I and the dog, are her favorite chew toys.

When dog gets fed up with her, she climbs back up on my lap, begging for me to try and rub her tummy (an excellent opportunity for a tic check) and tickle her ears. Her purr is reverberating through the room like a distant lawn mower. With my hand in her mouth, I think of dad.

What would he think? A bobcat on my lap. How would he have felt last night, when a 70 pound deer pushed open the door and strolled into the living room to have me rub his tiny velvet antlers? Would he laugh about the 40 pound tortoise untying my shoelaces and begging to go outside in the sun?

I wish he could see it. I wish he could see it all. I wish he could feel the pulse of a deer not yet shot and how soft and silky the spot just under their chin is. I wish he could run his rough hands through the bobcats fur and feel the vibrations of it’s purring. I wish he could smell how the grey squirrels smell like spice when they are alive and how baby foxes play with teddy bears.

What I really wish…is that he could be with me when I return these animals to the wild. That he could watch how the porcupine is a little afraid at first, then excited, then gone up a tree. I wish he could drive down the road with me, see a deer in the field and I could call it’s name and it looks up from feeding. I wish he could be HERE.

But life isn’t like that is it? We loose the people we love. We leave others behind when we go. That’s how it’s supposed to be. One life gives to another and eventually leaves. If we are lucky, those lives are long, but even the short ones leave us with something.

Dad left me a lot. More than he could ever imagine. He’s still here somehow, he’s part of the bobcats, the deer, the tiny baby raccoons. Thanks dad. Thanks for all of it.

The bobcat is passed out on the rug with the dog and I and the tortoise can have a few quiet minutes to drink coffee and watch the leaves fall. I don’t know what he thinks about, but I’ll think of dad.

Bedtime for Bobcats

The letting go of Ki Ki is starting way earlier than I expected.
This morning, I let her out to play before I went to town. Since she’d been cooped up in the house most of the day yesterday because of the rain, I wanted her to have some time before I put her in her outdoor pen while I went to town.

Less than an hour later, I called for her and she wouldn’t come. I called and searched. I didn’t understand it, she almost never fails to come when I call. I wondered if she could possibly know it was Thursday and my day in town. Reluctantly, I left, She had the doggy door and could come in when she wanted.

I came home after my appointment and called again. She came running from the back yard and into the house. It was all purrs and begging at the “Magic Box of Endless Food” (the fridge). I knew she been in the house while I was gone. Every pillow was off the couch and chair. All the Halloween decorations had been knocked over or molested and two leaves were chewed off my Rex Begonia. A blanket still had the impression of her nap.

Around 5;30 she went back outside with Sophie and I didn’t think much when she didn’t come back in when the dog did. I usually let her stay out till dark and normally, she does not leave the yard.

I went out at 7 and called. No KI KI. I went out at 7;30. Still no Ki Ki. 15 minutes later I went out and called and the deer came thundering in, demanding food. So I fed them, scratched them and handed out peppermints. There was a noise at the fence and I looked up to see Ki Ki on the fence rail.

She wouldn’t quite let me get a hold on her and purred s she paced back and forth. I told her it was time to come in and I swear, she gave me a “laughing Fuck You” and hopped off on the other side. The last I saw of her, she was streaking down the fence line towards the wooded area. There was no way I could follow.

My cat was being a brat. She has hit her teenage years, stolen the car and is out on a joyride. I have no idea where she is.
It’s now nearly 10 and she is still not home. She has never been out this late. The adventure is hers. The worry is mine.

There has never been a night that she has not slept securely in her night cage with her stuffed toys and blankies. Every night, I slept secure in the knowledge that she was safe in my studio.
As I look back over the past week or so, she has spent less time in the house and more time outside. She discovered the trees and climbing them. She has endlessly stalked that fat rabbit. She has been gradually distancing herself from the house and me. Never this much distance though.

I’m not sure what to do now. DO I go to bed and hope she comes back in? Do I wait up and ground her for a week when she does appear, looking like what the cat drags in? If she isn’t in her night cage, I know I won’t sleep. I will imagine coyotes and cars and falling in the pond. I will think of her lost, crying for me.

She won’t be, but I’ll imagine I hear it.

I go through this every year with the fawns on the first night they don’t come home, but they always do within a day. I hope she will too. But then comes the tough decision.
Bobcats stay with their mother for about 8 to 10 months. Ki Ki is a bit less than 5 months. She only weighs about 8 pounds and I had not planned to release her till she was at least 15 pounds.

I have raised her with as much freedom as possible. I wanted her to be comfortable with the outdoors and confident when I released her. I did not plan on releasing her near the house as I was afraid she would be too dependent on me. I assumed that at some point I would have to move her to the large pen for the winter and give her less and less attention. I would have to remove her freedom for her to gain it in the long run.

If she comes home, do I still allow her to be free in the house and surrounding area? Or do I break her heart and pen her up? I really am not sure. I’ve never raised a bob cat from a week old before. They have always been a few months old and I was able to maintain distance to keep them from being too familiar with humans.

I know she can hunt. I know, if she is hungry, she will eat what she kills. So far, she has never tried to go at any of the chickens or ducks, but if she sticks around, I suspect she will. She knows where home is and the doggy door. I’m pretty sure she prefers her blankies or the couch to sleeping in the wild. I am convinced that she will come to me before any other humans who might not know her. I have to be convinced.

All I really know right now is that I want her home. I want her safe. I want to hear her “Mommy growl” and her rumbling purr. It’s so hard loving something that is so wild, yet I couldn’t help myself.

I don’t think anyone could.

Oh wait! Here she is now. Purring with joy and full of face pats. She’s hungry and absolutely fine. The crisis is over….for now.

Last days in the garden

I worked in the garden all day, while the bobcat watched from her favorite tree, the pigeons picked up any bits I uncovered and the tortoise and deer waited outside the fence for me to throw them green peppers and corn.

As I took down the tomato cages and pulled up the plants, I ate the last ripe, sun warmed tomato of the summer. I can’t decide which tastes better, the first of the summer or the last. Each has it’s merits, yet somehow, the last tastes sweeter.

I found a Chinese radish that the rabbits missed. It was bright green on the outside and red in the inside. I rubbed the dirt off on my pants and marveled how many different flavors you could find in a single radish. (I did feel a bit Scarlet O’Hara though).

When I pulled the rattlesnake pole bean vines down from their posts, I found a few fresh ones hiding in the leaves. The deer were begging for them, but I ate them instead. I’m glad I did. They would not have properly appreciated them. besides, I needed lunch.

All the squash is picked, acorn, spagetti and butternut. One butternut weighed at least five pounds. It will be wonderful soup this winter. Unfortunately the Kurdota squashes seem to appeal to the mice and chipmunks. The rinds were chewed on nearly every one. There was one that actually had a hole bored into it and all the seeds were gone. I suppose I’ll find them growing somewhere next summer. Maybe I should coax that bobcat out of the tree.

It grew warm, and I took off my sweatshirt. It probably would have been a good idea to go get the sunscreen, but this sunburn feels so good in the chilly night.

The last big orange pumpkin got cut from it’s supporting sling on the trellis. They were labeled “Baby Boos” by the seed company, but I think someone might have been mistaken. The very smallest was the size of a basketball. I banged my head on the largest every time I walked under the 7 foot tall structure. The low, fat cheese pumpkins will have to wait for a frost, to sweeten them up before picking.

There are still fragrant herbs and lots of zinnias and marigolds blooming. Last week they were covered in monarch butterflies. They are gone now, leaving behind a few small fritillaries. Oh, and the bumblebees! They are everywhere. I frequently have to move them out of the way and yesterday, one fell asleep on my discarded sweatshirt and it grew too cold for him to go home. I put him in the greenhouse for safe sleeping and this morning, he was at the window, ready to return to the flowers.

I love the bumblebees. They are slow and gentle and let me pet them on their hairy backs. I figure, if a bumblebee can fly, then so can I…at least in my imagination.

The failures (mostly due to the numerous rabbits) didn’t seem so disheartening as I thought. There was so much bounty despite them. I can always buy beets at the store,( even if they aren’t as sweet as mine) and Jimmy is thrilled that there is no kale.

There were a lot more tomatillos and poblano peppers than I expected, so tomorrow night, I’ll can up a big batch of Mexican green sauce for enchiladas. Cabbages and carrots can wait and my Christmas limas will continue to dry until frost. Before it snows, I’ll pick the rest of the Indian corn I use for corn meal. I’ll tie it up in bundles with the rest and not only grind it for flour, but enjoy the beauty of the colors while the world is white and gray.

It seems as though I measure my years in gardens now. I don’t necessarily categorize events by dates, but as “That was the year I grew the Berkley tomatoes” or ‘Oh yea, remember, it was the year of the-squash-that-ate-the-garden”. I live for spring. I manage the summer and I revel in fall. It’s not sad to bring in the harvest and put the garden to bed. It just clears the way for all the new things I want to plant next year.

Right now, I’m going to slip these sunburned shoulders into my favorite night shirt and dream of summer days and flying with bumblebees.

Who Knew Ducks Were Rascist?

I could hear the ducks raising hell out in back and since the bobcat is loose in the house the doggy door is closed and Sophie is inside. (Not that Sophie has ANY inclination of going outside, in the dark, to investigate noises)
So I grab a flashlight with dying batteries, wake the dog and drag her outside. We walk all the way to the back fence and the ducks are indeed, raising hell about something. The flashlight is now down to the brightness of a wet candle, but I make out the source of their distress and the reason they are all pasted against the far side of the pen.
A turkey. A lone bronze turkey, smaller than most of the ducks and looking very confused is standing in the middle of the duck pen. The turkey pen and the duck pen share a common wall. It has taller fence and high bird netting on the turkey side. Somehow though, the little bugger had flown over, but instead of freedom, he found himself in the wrong neighborhood.
The ducks were livid. You would have thought he was a bird flu carrier or a rabid fox. They all shouted obscenities as I picked him up and carried him from the pen. Two of them demanded that I change their food dish and water pool, just in case he drank or ate from them.
I apologized to the turkey for their behavior and assured him that someday he would be 5 times bigger and prettier than them and face it, who the hell would want DUCK for Thanksgiving dinner? I’m sure he felt a bit better as I returned him to the pile of turkeys in the big pen. That’s when I noticed that there was even more segregation. The geese sleep in one pile, the chickens in the shelter and the turkeys way over by the gate.
Who knew.
On the way back to the house, the flashlight went out like a rejected firefly and Sophie and I were surrounded by darkness. Actually, it was nice. The gnats that had been madly pelting us in the face dispersed and it was calm.
We could hear crickets in the garden and somewhere a treefrog called out for rain. I looked up to see if he was succeeding and saw the brilliance of the stars. There was no moon to compete and they were almost as dazzling as I remember them from my childhood.
My father would spread a blanket out in the yard and we would lay with our heads on his chest or arm. He’d smoke his sweet smelling pipe and point out the Big Dipper, Mars and the Milky way. he used to say if you listened hard enough, you could hear them sing.
In the darkness tonight, I could almost smell his pipe tobacco and feel the rumble of his bass voice in his chest. The night chill was the same and I longed for the warmth of his arm. The milky way doesn’t seem as bright without him.
Oh I know, it’s light pollution and older eyes that don’t see in the dark as well, but I think it’s also that a bright star in my life is no longer there. No matter how old you get. You always miss your dad.
Sophie, unappreciative of the stars and longing for the couch, started to whine. I shook the flashlight, hoping to resurrect it enough to guide me through the minefield of deer poop. Sadly, it failed to shine again and I’ll be washing my slippers tomorrow. We came in the house and Sophie is now snoring at my feet.
The ducks have gone quiet and I can still hear the crickets and that lone tree frog calling for rain. I don’t know if he will get his wish or not, but we could use the moisture. It’s been a bit dry of late.
I think I’ll put the cat away and go to bed, but first……I’m going to go look up at the stars and listen to them sing.

Letting Go

The August moon is waning and the time of letting go has begun. Coons have been gone for weeks and the second batch of possums went tonight. Birds and squirrels are a constant coming and going, so there isn’t much angst involved.
Letting go of porcupines is another story.

I have begun to think that everyone needs a porcupine in their life. Like many people, they are sometimes sharp and prickly, but you love them anyway. When they are babies, they learn to trust you and you can handle them gently without gloves. They are vocal enough to let you know if you are late feeding and grunt happily when you appear with their bottle.

When you feed a porcupine, you can do nothing else. You can’t talk on the phone. You can’t eat your breakfast. You can’t even drink a cup of coffee. It takes two hands, one to hold the porcupine and one to hold the bottle. Sometimes they hum while you feed them. You can’t rush them either. They take their time and you have to go with it or end up with a hand full of quills.

Feeding a porcupine is a lesson in mindfulness. It’s total calm (or else). It’s my Zen. I will set the computer to “The Great Bell Chant” and we sit . Sometimes the porcupine finishes first…sometimes the chant, but no matter what else you have to do or how hectic your day, you have those moments to sit.

I miss those moments of calm and the chance to simply sit. When they are weened, it’s all too easy to skip my times of mindfulness. Sometimes in the evening though, after everyone is tucked in their respective beds, but me, I will sit in the chair and listen to the porcupine softly snore.

The time comes though, that even that ends. The porcupine moves to an outdoor cage or enclosure where he learns to climb and munch watermelon, corn, leaves and grasses and crisp sweet potatoes. I often wonder what they think when they get in the woods and there are no sweet potatoes growing in the trees.

Then in the waning moon of August, it is time for them to leave. It doesn’t always work on the first try. I was worried that tonight might be one of those nights when you bring them back home and try again in a few weeks.

We know of a perfect place at the end of a dead end two track. It was once a homestead and there are little bridges of rocks across the creek that winds through it. The orchard and house are gone, but a few wild apple and pear trees have grown to replace them. It is lush with ferns and thick with oak, pine, beach and cedar. In other words, it is porcupine heaven.
We took along the possums that were eager to run off into the woods when the cage was opened and they were encouraged to experience freedom. The porcupines take a bit more time.

I carried her along the stream bank, showing her the different plants, the crossings and the best trees. I found a beech with a low branch and allowed her to climb from my hands to the tree. She whined and clicked her teeth with anxiety. She nearly tumbled off the branch, so I put her on the ground. She quickly (as quickly and a porcupine can) came to me and started climbing up my leg.

Scooping her up, we walked some more. Her high pitched whine and teeth clicking gradually changed to a lower pitch of excitement and chatters. I found a big white pine with lots of thick low branches and let her crawl from my hand to the branch. At first she climbed away from me, then turned and started whining again and came back to my arm.

We just talked to each other (I talked, she whined) till she calmed down and we repeated the process. After two or three times, back and forth, she climbed higher in the tree away from me. She tasted the needles and bark and grunted happily. She had taken her choice. She was home and I could leave.

I admit. It was hard to walk away. I looked back several times to see if she was trying to reach me. She wasn’t. So in the gloaming dusk, I left her.

I hope she’ll be safe. I hope she’ll have enough to eat. I hope she finds a mate. I hope she has a long life with many babies.

I hope, that somewhere in that slightly primitive brain, she will remember me.

I know, I will remember her.

Cat’s, cats and more Cats.

Ok, so I took in my dead friend’s cats. Annie (AKA Annie Banannie) Is so cool. She is extremely over weight and cannot jump up on things (we are working on a weight reduction program) Even though she is in a mad house and not getting the food she likes, she is pretty content to sit behind and empty aquarium and watch the world go by. If you come near her, she rolls over and purrs. She even purrs for Sophie if Soph sits quietly.

Annie is the ultimate in cool, even if her extra toes do kind of creep me out.
The other one…..well, I always thought he ( she , whatever, there is so much fur on this cat’s ass I can’t tell) was the coolest. A Norwegian forest cat (we believe) showed up at her door already declawed (don’t get me started on that) and I assume, spayed or nutered as a small kitten. It has luxurious gray fur and the distinctive triangular face of the Norse cats.

I always liked him, because he was not an “In your face” kind of cat. He strolled through the room, nodding his approval or disapproval, would try to drink the foam off my coffee and then move along as if he owned the house and he allowed us peasants to visit.

He basically had a lovely “Fuck you” attitude and I like that in a cat.

It took two attempts for her son to get him here. Annie Bannannie, rode peacefully on on the floor of the car and wrapped her arms around me when she saw me. The other cat hissed and swatted (first time I’ve been grateful for declawed cats) when cornered and wormed his way out of the carrier and disappeared before he could even get to the car.. Dave was beginning to think we’d have to set live traps. But the desire for food won over distain.

He arrived in the carrier with a zip tie on the zipper so he couldn’t escape. I was cautioned that I might want to use a long stick to free him. I opened it next to Annie and backed away in case he attacked. He stayed in the carrier most of the afternoon hissing and growling at everything that ventured within 10 feet. (Sophie, Annie, me, flies, the wall…..)

After he ventured out, he still hated the world and all it’s breathing occupants. If I walked too close to the emperor, he swatted. If I looked at him without my head bowed, he hissed. You could hear his growls at regular intervals. I thought “Ok, Annie is for petting and this long haired harridan is for avoiding. This will work out.)
Then last night, he rubbed against my leg. I froze, petrified. He PURRED. Oh my God! He Purred. he jumped up on the table while I fed the squirrels and though he sniffed them thoroughly, he showed no indication that they might be a food product. (as the dieting progresses, I’m not that confident that Annie will share those sentiments). I shut the studio door to give them peace from Sophie and went to bed.

This mornings introduction to the bobcat kitten did not go well, so I put her outside early and went about feeding. Again, the cat jumped up on the table and watched me feed squirrels. He nonchalantly sniffed in the direction of the baby bunnies.

It wasn’t until I sat down at the computer with my coffee that I learned what I’d gotten myself into. It’s like the coffee triggered the memory of who I was. he was in my face. He was in my coffee. He was laying in the keyboard and generally demanding all my attention. It’s not easy with a big ball of floof in your face to use the computer.

HE WONT LEAVE ME ALONE. He’s like an adolescent boy with a can of AXE body spray. He is all over me. I am gagging at the cat hair in my coffee.

But…..I am loved. Hopefully not with this intensity as the weeks go by, but I am certainly loved.

Now, wait till he meets the tortoise.

Warning. Poop Story. Pretty Gross.

When the tortoise first came, she had been eating little more than lettuce, yellow squash and occasionally kale. She was only allowed to graze for about an hour a day. In the winter, she ate hay. Here, she is outside all day and I’ve introduced her to bananas, watermelon, clover, fresh garden vegetables and all kinds of fruit. She is allowed to graze all day. Her first poops were small white and liquid. I didn’t think it would be so bad. II could cope with that and a bucket of water.

Two days ago, I found a big, soft turd in front of the gate. I washed it away with some effort and the garden hose. I was stumped to discover it consisted of barely digested grass. I worried that one of the fawns was not properly ruminating and was ill, but everyone seemed fine.

Skip to this afternoon. A massive pile of poop in front of the gate again. I blamed Sophie and she looked at me like I was crazy. I went looking for the shovel and passed Roomba (the tortoise), just as she was ,I swear, smiling and letting go of another Poop. I couldn’t believe anything that big could come from a turtle! Sophie looked up at me waiting for an apology. My apology was indeed, profuse.

We have a new entry on the Gaskin poop scale.

Before I had time to remove it, Jamie came over with two of her Chihuahua mixes. Luna is a known shiteater (Like a sin eater, but worse breath). She prefers goose, but will settle for deer poop now that the geese are locked up. You can guess what happened next.

She thought he had hit the jackpot and dove into the pile. I didn’t know whether to laugh or gag, but Jamie shrieked as she ran for the nearest shovel. Not to be deterred, Bad Breath Betty, headed for the one on the other side of the yard where Roomba was digging in the fresh dirt. Jamie is not as fast as her dog.
But, in the end, Luna had to settle for sifting through the grass for deer poop with her teeth, like a lowbush blueberry picker with a shuttle as the rest of us giggled under our breath.

Then it hit me. If a 30 pound turtle can poop like a Labrador Retriever now, what is it going to be like when it is 75 to 100 pounds?

It also hit me….I’m babysitting Luna tomorrow. I wonder if tortoises poop every day…..

August Moon

The moon was spectacular last night. Her luminosity made my lantern unnecessary when I went out to feed the fawns. I watched a few stray clouds scuttle across the silver surface and noticed a tinge or orange on the very edges of those clouds. You don’t see that color in early and midsummer moons…but midsummer is past and that moon has become the Green Corn Moon.

I learned the names of the moons from an old Native American friend when I was a child. They often differ from the standard almanack moons of the white settlers. The Green Corn Moon was so named because the corn was ripe and juicy and sweet. Fresh ears were roasted in the fire and The People filled their bellies with it’s goodness. They knew that the winter would be long and there would be many nights of soup and succotash made with the dry corn of harvest. This corn was a treat and was celebrated with stories and songs.

I always feel a bit wistful at the August moon. It’s the last moon of summer and soon the light will change and the softness of the summer will turn to the sharp, crisp sky of Autumn. The moon will rise golden and her light will turn cold as she passes across the sky. The hectic time of harvest will be here and my arms will feel the itch and scratch of wool sweaters reluctantly pulled over my head.

I didn’t want to waste this moon. I took off my shoes to feel the dew and gave the deer their warm, sweet bottles of milk. This time too will come to an end. Some already turn their heads and reach for grass of the sweetfeed at their feet. Their spots are fading and they raise their muzzles to the wind. I wonder if they are smelling the fresh scent of freedom and are already thinking of forests and fields beyond the fence. My time with them is limited.

when they finished, I followed them out into the yard. We walked all the way to the garden and beyond. Every once in a while a cool nose pressed into my hand or against my leg. Sophie came to join us and that’s when the dancing began.
It started with a headbutt to the side of my leg, then progressed with a sideways shuffle to the side, soon all the deer and Sophie were running and jumping around me. The bucks would bow low and shake their heads, then race in circles around us. The does would raise up on their hid legs and then leap in a different direction.

They raced around the perimeter of the garden and then would come back to me, inviting me to run.
But I’m old and slow and not a deer. They are becoming aware of this now. I am not a deer. They long to have the company of other deer instead of old ladies. The tie that binds us will stretch and strain and finally break. Once the gates are lowered, I will see them less and less.

Some will return on a daily basis, still begging for that warm bottle of milk. I’ll indulge them, as much for me as them. Some will disappear within day and I’ll never see them again, not knowing if they have joined in a heard of wild deer or somehow died on the road or in the jaws of a coyote. The longest night of the year is the night that they do not return to the yard to sleep. I lay awake listening for the screech of brakes or the shrill cries of coyotes with prey.

Then there is always that one. The one who can’t let go. The one who will come back just to stare at the house or sleep in her familiar pen. The one that even years later, I will see in the field and it will turn and look at me and want and not want to approach me for a scratch.

I love it when that happens. I know that I succeeded at my work. I know that there is a healthy deer that would not have been there without me. It’s a little thing in the scope of the world, but it’s enough for me.

In the meantime. I have this moon, I have this night where lanterns have no need and I will dance with the fawns in the dew.