You Are Dead to Me

The bobcat is sitting with her back to me. I am dead to her. (At least till she wants food)

I still had one squirrel and one pigeon in my studio. We have already gone over the dangers of the squirrel and indoor plumbing. I still have two Band-Aids to prove it. Squirrels and pigeons are messy buggers, throwing seed everywhere and in the case of male squirrels…holding tight to the bars to see how far outside their cage they can shoot pee.

Not unlike human males, I guess.

Anyway, The pigeon seemed to be all healed from her wing injury and the dead toe has fallen off (Long story). There is a hot little female squirrel in a cage on the enclosed porch, whistling at Jimmy and giving him the eye, every time he walks by. Maybe it’s time to introduce Short Fat and Black Squirrel to her. I could see if the pigeon could fly at the same time. Then hopefully, I can release said FEMALE pigeon to the head humper boys that live in the back yard.

So….I convince the SFBS (Short, Fat, Black, Squirrel) that I am not removing him to feed him to the bobcat or put him back in the terrifying bathroom. He lets me pick him up, give him a quick snuggle and put him on the cage in the porch where our sexy lady squirrel is still asleep. Then I go for the pigeon.

Now I need to be sure that the pigeon can fly…..we live with a bobcat after all. I take her out to the enclosed porch and open my hands. She can fly. She can fly really well. Too Well. I can’t catch the damn thing again.

I come in the house to get a net. The bobcat says “Ah Ha! I have my opportunity to get involved” and slips out the door un noticed. All hell breaks loose. The pigeon knocks over Mary and Joseph and kicks the baby Jesus onto the top of the squirrel cage. Sexy Lady wakes up and thinks there is an intruder in her cage. SFBB automatically goes into “Bathroom Battle” mode.

The cat is thrilled. This is better than TV or the pine tree in the living room with all the dangly things. (that’s a story for something stronger than coffee) The bird is franticly flying about bashing into the clear plastic walls that she cant see, the squirrels are still screaming at each other and trying to kill the Baby Jesus and I am running franticly with a net trying to catch the pigeon before that dam cat does..

It was ugly. I need more Band Aids…and a bourbon…lots of bourbon…’s only 10:45 in the morning.

All said and done. The pigeon is now flying free outside with two desperate male pigeons playing Rock .Paper. Scissors to see who gets her and who has to wait for the next human head that comes out the door. Baby Jesus has been rescued
albeit, missing a few toes and Joseph and Mary are still shell shocked. The squirrels are at opposite ends of the cage glaring at each other (I don’t think she likes fat men) And the cat…..Well, she was unceremoniously grabbed by the scruff of the neck and thrown out into the snowbank.

She’s back inside now. Straightening her fur with her tongue and plotting my death.

Just another day in the Gaskin house.

Anyone got a band aid?

I really must do something about the squirrel problem in the bathroom. It’s starting to get out of hand,
This morning I was sitting at my desk, on facebook, minding my own business (I know, don’t go there…) when I heard the distinctive plop of a squirrel hitting the floor. Before I could even turn around, the bobcat came zipping through and I heard said squirrel screech.
“Shit.” I thought,”There goes that squirrel…..”
I tried to get around the table, but said squirrel was simply a blur with Ki Ki tight on his ass. I figured the squirrel was already a gonner and since I value my fingers, I know better than to try and take it away. I heard banging and crashing from the other room and then silence.
Pretty soon, Ki Ki came in and flopped on the rug by the door. I assumed that I would find half a squirrel somewhere later.
I went about my day, a little laundry, baking some cookies, cleaning. Pretty soon, I had to pee. Usually this is not eventful, but remember where I liv. I didn’t turn the light on,,,I’m pretty confident where my toilet is by now.
Halfway through, I felt a little paw on my shoulder. I screamed. Whatever the paw was attached to screamed, Sophie ran from the bathroom. (I never get to pee alone) The paw tightened its grip and was joined by three more and a pair of teeth in my neck.
It was the squirrel. The squirrel was frightened. The squirrel was pissed, The squirrel was out for blood. It would settle for mine. “Not today squirrel, not today”
I managed to reach around in the dark and get my hands on the squirrel. It screeched again. Enter the bobcat.
It’s actually a good thing that this was taking part in a dark bathroom with no one around, remember, I was PEEING. That means that my pants are now down around my ankles and the only thing that the bobcat has to get purchase on is my bare leg. I screamed again. Sophie stood in the hallway and barked. It was NOT a pretty sight.
Somehow, the details are a bit blurry, but I know someone was swearing loudly, I managed to hold the squirrel over my head while I shuffled towards the cage with a bobcat hanging by his claws off my butt. I dislodged the squirrels teeth from my thumb and stuffed him in his cage, The now disappointed cat leg go of my lower regions and sulked off.
After searching for band aids, dry underwear and pants (I must have jumped up rather rapidly off the toilet) and putting a new, non chew-able metal clip on the door of the squirrel cage, I started to calm down. I apologized to the cat and gave her an alternative meal and I can finally get back to facebook.
Then maybe I’ll look on Amazon for a motion detecting light for the bathroom.

Six o clock on a winter morning

I am amazed how much more often people hang up on me; especially after waking me from a sound sleep.
The phone rang a little after six this morning and the woman on the other end told me her location (at least 30 minutes away). Two foxes were evidently struck by a car. One could not stand and it appeared that it’s hip was broken and the other was holding it’s front paw off the ground. The downed fox had a good deal of blood around it.
She DEMANDED that I come right away. After telling her to get back in the car so she did not get bitten, I gathered enough information to know that the fox on the ground would probably be dead in a short time. I started to explain that the other fox might not be badly injured, but in shock.
She still DEMANDED that I come and get them.
I told here that unfortunately, I really couldn’t do much as I don’t have the equipment (Or stamina) to catch an adult fox and that I have no vet who would treat them.
Before I could explain that I am only one person with limited funds and expertise, not to mention pretty basic facilities, she said some nasty things and hung up.
I picture these people violently punching the “End call” button on their cell phones, trying to express their anger and distain. She certainly sounded old enough to remember the satisfaction of slamming down a receiver to make her point.
What she doesn’t know, nor would she care, is that I have scars up and down my right arm and hand from foxes who didn’t know I was trying to help them. She doesn’t know the feeling of putting stiches in your own thumb, because if you go to a doctor, law requires that the animal be immediately killed and tested for rabies.
She also doesn’t know that even if you can get a bone set on a fox and casted, it will often chew it’s own leg off because it believes it is trapped and must escape. I don’t have access to the drugs that would knock it out or keep it calm and pain free.
She doesn’t know that that fox has a diet requiring a lot of fresh meat (or expensive specialty canned food) and that I would need to be feeding it for the rest of the winter.
She doesn’t know that it requires a small recovery pen and then a large pen where it can begin exercising the leg. Not only does this require pen space, but shoveling snow to and from the pen, heated water bowls and the risk I face every time I check the leg, remove the cast or transfer the animal. That’s a lot for one old lady who is already caring for other animals.
She doesn’t know that I would be putting a fox back into the wild (after all the time and expense), that might have a severe limp, or feel the pain of the break in the winter cold. She doesn’t know how many nights I’d lie awake and think about that fox and worry how it was doing.
She doesn’t know that I feel just as badly and even more helpless that she does that I can’t help that fox.
She also cannot understand that the more I hear the words “Well, what good are you then?” before someone hangs up the phone, the closer I get to giving up and not going through this any more.
I hope she can let go of her anger and frustration. I hope she can find the acceptance that sometimes, there really isn’t anything you can do. It’s been a long tough lesson for me to get to that point and it doesn’t get any easier each time I have to get there. It also doesn’t get any easier to let go of the words “Well, what good are you anyway” Especially at six o clock on a winter morning.

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.