Category Archives: Animal

Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam!: Everyday Magic, Day 902

Once we saw the postcard, we couldn’t un-see it. Seven buffalo coming on Tuesday — “Please make all necessary arrangements” — rung through our minds all weekend. Yup, we figured buffalo wouldn’t actually arrive, but this little message is one of those whimsical delights of a lifetime. It had no return address, and postmarked in Kansas City meant it could have come from Lawrence or from Kansas City. It was also worded so bureaucratically that whoever sent it is surely a great life artist.

While the buffalo didn’t arrive, getting to share the news on Facebook, not nearly as exciting as getting a small herd, did have it rewards. “Sadley, but not unexpectedly,” I told people, the buffalo didn’t come. “Call Amazon,” my mother wrote, Others suggested I contact Fedex or UPS, and Dan cautioned that the buffalo couldn’t stay in boxes for long in the sun. There were lots of cow patty puns, Bob posted a photo of a historic Brewster Buffalo plane, Cathy shared an image of buffalo walking down the road, and Robin wrote, “How incredibly disappointing for us all.” Laura shared Pete Seeger singing “I’m Going To Mail Myself To You,” and people wondered if we were just ill-prepared or if they showed up somewhere else. I also found several other people who received the same postcard.

My favorite comment of all was Nancy’s — “hey are there! Just very, very well camouflaged!” — because I know this is true. If time is just a human construct, and past lives are actually having simultaneously in other dimensions, then the fields around our house are likely teaming with buffalo at the same time all we detect is chiggers and ticks. Thinking of who was here before us also got me thinking about what it would take to graze buffalo here again although it would take way more than between now and Tuesday to get ready. In the meantime, I’m just a bit sad to not be in what Kathryn called “the critter of the month club,” but very happy to have enjoyed the imagined buffalo with my real community.

Calicoco, the Flying Ninja Cat, or Why You Shouldn’t Put a Feral Kitty in Your Bathroom: Everyday Magic, Day 902

There’s white fur on the bathroom mirror, bath curtain rod, and bedroom windows from Calicoco, the feral cat I stupidly thought I could catch and keep. For three months, this beautiful and seemingly tame calico kitty has been hanging out at our place: sleeping on the deck or on top of the kayaks while blinking at our indoor cats, who blink back without a fuss. She got along well with Shay the Dog, who treated her like any of the other feline-Americans of the house, and I spent a lot of time talking to her. “Calicoco,” I would call out in a high-pitched voice, “We are your forever home!” Then I would put out food and water for her, each day getting a little closer although she required an eight-foot perimeter with humans.

After a big storm the other day, when we found Calicoco outside our bedroom window cowering, Ken and I decided today we would set up the live trap, then take this supposedly sweet and pitiful kitty to the vet to get her shots and make sure she was healthy before making her our new cat. A few hours later, I set out the trap on our driveway, sat on the screened-in porch, watched and waited. Calicoco circled it continuously but she seemed too smart to actually get inside the cage with the food, surely knowing it would trap her. After a few hours, I had to leave, so I told Forest to check on her.

Of course, she got caught in the trap 10 minutes after I left, and Forest reported she immediately started ramming her pretty face against the cage to the point that she was bleeding. I told him to put the cage in the bathroom, and let her out, then close the door until she could chill. The plan was then for him to wrap her in a towel, put her in the cat carrier, and meet me at the vet.

Sitting at the Wa with Kelley while finishing our bento boxes, Forest called, and we both listened to him trying to catch her. It sounded like a Roadrunner cartoon without the beeping: lots of crashes and bangs. He took a breather, tried again, and the sounds we heard were even more outrageous (think mega squirrel on steroids). So I drove back home to help catch the kitty myself, figuring that if my over-6-foot-tall, strong, young son couldn’t get her into the carrier, surely it would be a piece of cake for me.

When I locked myself in the bathroom with sweet Calicoco, I experienced the most wild animal encounter of my life up close and personal. This cat doesn’t just jump — she flies! She could leap from the top of the bath curtain rod to the molding over the door, front paws extended, in a flash, then boomarang window to floor to sink to bathtub in about two seconds. Trying to throw a towel over a feral cat is also a very bad idea indeed, and it results in a barrage of crashing and breaking glass. Within a minute, the floor was covered with blue and pink glass, cat food, blood, and fur.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Forest and I talked earnestly about letting her back out into the wild, but with cuts on her face that could get infected, we decided to try to get her to the vet instead first. So I opened the door to the bedroom, where Forest, a box, and several towels waited, and we backed up to watch the fireworks. She repeatedly body-slammed herself into every window, trying to break out, and she might have succeeded. But then she leapt down between the bed and the wall, just her adorable feet sticking up, and this was when I did something brave and idiotic: I grabbed her feet, praying she didn’t swing around and kill me, and flung her into a towel and box. Forest and I threw ourselves on top of the box, taping the hell out of it, then carefully carried that box to the car.

Now the ethical (and financial) quandary deepened. If we took her to the vet and spent big $ to sedate and treat her, it would just be to let her out in the wild again. Then again, it was our fault she was injured. Ken and Daniel were concerned about her effect on the bird population, and given that this cat flies, so was I. If we took her to the humane society, we feared they would kill her. For the next hour, Forest and I drove around with a feral cat in a box, calling various friends, talking with Ken repeatedly, then puzzling it out with each other.

In the end, we drove to the humane society to see if they would truly send her to the wild cat rainbow bridge, and it turned out they turn wild critters like her into barn cats by way of shots, neutering, and flea treatment. We spent a lot of time talking with staff there about when and if they would kill her — they might if she’s not adopted, and it’s apparent she’s suffering too much. “It’s torture for a feral cat to be in a kennel,” one of the very wise women who worked there told us. “We have to think about what’s best for the cat, not what we want.”

Forest and I wanted Calicoco to live, but we also realized she couldn’t live with us. Turns out Denise and Courtney, who brought us an abandoned kitty years ago (Sidney Iowa Goldberg, found in a parking lot on their home from where they married in Iowa), need a barn cat. So we’re working with them to give Calicoco a real forever home, one with a heap of goats, some big-ass pigs, and humans who will know enough not to put a feral cat in the bathroom. In the meantime, I look at the top of the kayaks, so lonely now without a beautiful and fierce flying ninja cat sunning herself on top of them.

A Charm of Teenager Hummingbirds: Everyday Magic, Day 872

A bunch of hummingbirds is called a charm, a delight and an adornment, and for the last few months, I’ve been blessed to have my view delighted and adorned by a charm of hummingbirds. At this time of September, it’s a teenage charm with the ‘rents having gone south already for their tropical vacation, and the kids, some of whom are still hanging out at my place, partying at the sugar-water hanging kegs like there’s no tomorrow.

After a usual summer of a few Ruby-throated hummingbirds hanging out at the edge of woods and near the feeders, right around early September, they seem to multiply overnight on their way south to winter in southern Mexico and northern Panama. My friend Pam, who sat quietly on our front porch with me yesterday to immerse herself n the buzz-chirp-rush of the birds, told me that the full-grown birds take off first, leaving behind the teens, who are old enough to be on their own without causing too much of a ruckus, and happy as the day is long and the feeders are full.

While the ways of the teen are somewhat mysterious in humans, when it comes to hummingbirds, that mystery deepens because of all we don’t know about them. According to some sites I perused, hummingbirds are too little (weighing about 3 grams, smaller for the teens) to carry radio transmitters, and of course, these birds are difficult to catch, handle, and band, let alone recover the banded ones. It also sounds like we just don’t know a lot about their fall migration, except they are very much creatures of habit, returning to the same feeders around the same time each spring, and the males — the ones with the beautiful ruby-colored throats — don’t linger long after mating. What we do know is hummingbirds beat their wings 53 times a second, they weigh between 0.1 and 0.2 an oz., their hearts beat the fastest of all beings — 1260 beats per minute, they can migrate about 1,500 miles in a season, and they make an outrageous amount of song and sound.

As I write this, these tiny, feisty miracles race-buzz by, then suspend themselves mid-air to stare at me, the dog, the cats — who stare back in amazement but are smart enough not to even try to get closer — before shooting off to the feeder. Sometimes there are a dozen or more zipping diagonally past each other from power line to feeder to high branch on the Osage Orange tree back around.  Sometimes they squeak long dialogues before vanishing into the woods with a flash. Each swirl and angle of their flight, each call and wild rush of their wings charms all of us living this porch (and beyond) life.

Listen to their calls and see them swishing around below in the little video I took, and learn more (and hear various kinds of calls) at this fantastic Audubon site and the Cornell All About Birds site.

Pet World and the Real Magic of Animals: Everyday Magic, Day 886

IMG_0912The little girls each pressed a velvet-like bunny into their chests, the girls’ chins nuzzling the sleep bunnys’ heads. A little boy let a large yellow snake wrap around his torso, the snake’s head balancing on the boy’s elbow. A woman rocked a ferret to sleep in her arms. A toddler stood amazed as the turquoise parakeet stepped onto his fingers.

This was the Pet World re-opening eight months after a devastating fire killed many a reptile, all the fish, a kitten, and many other manner of those with claws, fins, and paws last May. Within a few days, our community — composed of many like me who had spent hours in Pet World with their kids or when they were just having a bad day and needed to hold something furry — wrapped around the store that had wrapped around our animal selves. We held a vigil full of concerned children hugging the owners, employees holding each other and weeping, and lots of strollers, wheelchairs and walkers holding candles and making more noise than you’d expect at a vigil. But that’s just it: this was a vigil for a place not just of animals but of our own animal selves. I just read over my post from that time, and I repeat here a quote from Sherry Emerson, co-owner of Pet World with her husband Tim:IMG_0910

Tim can never forget how he felt as a child when he and his young friends were refused entry to their local pet store and not allowed to hold the animals. He knows that the total separation of humans and animals will ultimately lead to the disconnection of humans and nature. We truly believe in our mission.

That mission is a healing balm in action, bringing us back together with the more-than-human species we’re part of, even if it’s happening in a store that sells dog food, crickets to take home and feed your pet tree frogs, and fish tanks. When I brought Shay the dog to Pet World on Saturday for the opening, I was so happy by what I saw — dozens of human animals and other animals getting to know each otheIMG_0908r in laughter, delight, even bliss — that I went back on Sunday, this time taking Ken with me. Unlike Shay (who was respectful and extremely interested in everything and everyone in the store), Ken got to hold a bunny and a dove, and also pet a gecko and snake in between watching the new younger tortoises and the giant, ancient ones adored with arms that looked like medieval body armor.

The children filling the stores, along with their parents, grandparents, friends, and occasionally big or little dogs were experiencing more than an indoor petting zoo. I saw many Pet World employees showing kids of all ages how to let a bird come onto their fingers, where to put their IMG_0923hands when holding a guinea pig, or how to properly pet a tired lizard. One woman who worked there got on her knees to show a bunny to a newborn, both rabbit and kids having the same sized face.

I’m all for watching and being with animals in the wild without disturbing them too much, but there’s something also essential in touching animals, and through touching, finding who we are as humans and as animals. Feeling the pads of the gecko’s feet on our palms, the claws of parakeet wrapped around our fingers, the beating heart of a rabbit or kitten or hamster against our own hearts connects us to the real magic in this world.

Karma, a Disgruntled Cat, and the Bob-Tailed Squirrel: Everyday Magic, Day 881

IMG_0712For years a certain squirrel has tormented my cats, strutting his stuff in slow motion from the deck railing while both kitties watched from inside the house The more agitated the cats, the more indulgent the squirrel. He even jumped to the window that separated them, and the cats on the inside window sill and the squirrel on the outside, mocking them in his miniature parade of pride.

If the windows are Cat TV, the squirrel was a daily reality show designed to inflame cat desires and piss them off. As such, it had high ratings: the cats were glued to watching the squirrel who caused them no end of aggravation.

Karma takes many forms, even that of a fat cat. Although we try to keep our cats indoor because of the coyotes in the area, Sidney Iowa Goldberg has a habit of getting out, thanks to Shay the Dog who graciously opening the door for himself and the cat. Having a dog who can open many manner of doors and a cat jonesing to escape the safe bonds of the house is beyond our control, although Sid is pretty overweight and moves so slowly that he’s relatively easy to catch. Either that, or he comes bounding to the door within an hour, having been taught well by the dog that this is how you get back in.IMG_0707

The other day when Sid went on his afternoon walkabout, I didn’t think much of it, and as usual, I was relieved when he raced to the door to come back in. The next morning, just when it was time for the squirrel show to begin (it starts as soon as it’s light out), a curious thing happened. The squirrel returned, but not his tail. Strangely enough, the cats weren’t as interested in the squirrel channel, and they also seemed strangely at peace while Mr. Squirrel walked along the railing with a whole lot less confidence or balance.

While I can’t prove Sidney bit off the squirrel’s tail, it sure seems like a good possibility. In the meantime, the bob-tailed squirrel is struggling with low ratings, but hopefully, still enough fallen bird seed and acorns to get by.

Predictably Crazy in Unpredictable Ways as the Nest Empties: Everyday Magic, Day 864

Daniel showing us the native prairie plant greenhouse on his last day of work there.
Daniel showing us the native prairie plant greenhouse on his last day of work there.

I knew this was coming, but sometimes knowledge isn’t as useful as we wish it was. This week, within two days, Ken and I go from people who have lived with their kids in varying configurations for 26 years to empty-nesters. On Aug. 18, Daniel moves out to begin his masters in Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On Aug. 20, Forest moves out to immerse himself in journalism school at the University of Kansas.

From past bouts of grief-crazy nest-emptying I’ve learned how much being a parent means being an animal connected to another animal. Eight years ago, I cried on and off most of the way home from Newton, KS, where we left Daniel to begin college, and for the next week, found myself curling up in his bed and sobbing in between opening the fridge with great joy that all the groceries I bought were still there. Five years ago, I did it again, this time driving Natalie on my own to the Twin Cities. While she attended vibrant orientations at her college, I multi-tasked: I cried hysterically and got lost all over St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Now, just back from Vermont, I’ve landed at home in the middle of mayhem, laundry, and the dance of desks. Turns out the massive, oak desk a friend gave Daniel fit into my car (which involved unbolting seats) but wouldn’t fit into his, so yesterday, we moved that surely-heavier-than-a-refrigerator desk into Ken’s office, Ken’s desk onto the porch where it quickly found a home with a friend, and Ken’s grandpa’s old green metal desk into Daniel’s car. Meanwhile, there were hundreds of t-shirts to fold while sorting things into staging area #1 (Daniel’s), and staging area #2 (Forest’s).

When I’m not doing such things, I feel lost and confused. Today as I drove to meet Kelley for pizza, I wondered what I would eat because I wasn’t the least bit hungry. Half an hour later, I had eaten most of the pizza we were sharing, plus dessert, and I could have kept eating, all sensors broken on what’s enough or too much. Later, I took too much time picking out laundry detergent for Forest and ended up missing yoga class. I froze in an aisle of Target, wondering what to do. Go home and pack more for Daniel? Clean the basement and re-arrange all the furniture? Drive to that frozen custard place at high speed? Take a nap?

I couldn’t tell so I aimed myself to a thrift store, where a man in the next aisle sang out to me, “I am standing in the middle of the field of mystery.” I wanted to sing back that I was standing in such a field too, but it turned out he wanted my opinion on whether an embroidered foot stool was worth $10, and the last thing I could do was conjure up an opinion. I gathered the flannel pajama pants I found for Forest, but fled the store after finding that a woman in line in front of me had at least 50 items in her shopping cart.

Forest in front of staging area #2 (his stuff)
Forest in front of staging area #2 (his stuff)

Instead, I made myself go do something physical, which seems like the only sensible thing to decide when a person can’t decide anything, and in 20 minutes, I was in the pool swimming laps. I wish I could say the motion and water calmed my ramped-up mind, but it was more that my ramped-up mind found a great rhythm for keeping its pace while I swam. What was I thinking about? How to pack Daniel’s car, which I just did, playing to my strength of squeezing too much stuff in too little space. I delighted in piecing a down comforter into a tiny space between a toolbox, violin, and computer speakers.

Now that Daniel is ready to roll first thing tomorrow morning, I’ll be aiming my attention to staging area #2 in between bumping into myself coming and going, all the time pacing, swimming, packing, hauling, and standing around very confused, sad, excited, stunned and perhaps even joyful in a field of mystery.

Pairs of Rattlesnakes, Kayaks, and Beloveds: Everyday Magic, Day 856

Mr. Rattlesnake just hanging in his pillow case (outside of course) before moving to his new home.
Mr. Rattlesnake just hanging in his pillow case (outside of course) before moving to his new home.

It was a weekend of unlikely pairs. First, there was the matter of returning the pair of rattlesnakes our friend Hank caught right against our house a few days ago. The Mr. and Mrs. had  just a little too close for comfort, pretty much on the other side of the wall of our bedroom, and although they were docile, because we wanted to welcome another pair–a pair of kayaks–to that area and didn’t want to accidentally step on rattlesnakes when loading or unloading, something had to give. After Hank drove around with them (contained of course) and housed them (he said Mrs. Rattlesnake rattled whenever he played the piano, but please know she was in a plastic tub with lid the whole time), he and Ken decided to put them back in our area, but far farther from the house.

The wrangling of snakes is not for the weary or timid. As I watched Hank open the tub where Mrs. had been angrily living for a few days, then hold her head gently down with a stick and reach in to grab her around the back of her head, I couldn’t help but scream. A lot. An experienced scientist and snake handler, he lifted her with ease, then dropped her in one of our pillow cases for the trek up the hill with Mr., already in his

Frank and Sandy say goodbye to their kayaks
Frank and Sandy say goodbye to their kayaks

pillow case. Ken, Daniel and Hank went on a great walk to find the perfect place near a rocky outcrop with the kind of habitat the rattlers prefer, and let them loose. They said Mr., a rather laid-back character, went straight into a hole in the ground. Mrs. coiled up and rattled at them until they were out of earshot.

The snakes out of the picture, we turned our attention to picking up the kayaks we were buying from friends Frank and Sandy, an endeavor that turns out to be almost as complicated as relocating rattlesnakes although not nearly as dangerous. After finding out weeks ago the cost of a car carrier, we set out to make our own, or rather Ken did while I drank tea on the porch. It took, as all home projects take, more trips to the hardware store thanIMG_4264 anticipated and a whole lot of “hold this while I hammer the nail” moments. Finally, tied into place on the CRV, we trekked to our friends’ house, and loaded up the kayaks. Let’s just say the tying of the kayaks into place would have earned most eagle scouts advanced badges. Frank and Sandy said goodbye to their old kayak friends, and we said hello.

We also said hello to a new pair, Dave and Marcia, ready to make the leap into marriage after four years of loving one another. It was my first time officially doing the marrying of a couple (I married another couple with my friend, Danny, who was the official Universal Life minister, and I married Courtney and Denise long before marriage equality was a glimpse in our Kansas eyes). We hauled a vase of sunflowers, a whole lot of black-eyed susans, a crystal bowl for a Buddhist water blessing ceremony, and accorded gadgets to make this computer loudly play Mannheim Steamroller’s “Sky” and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Marcia and Dave just before the wedding
Marcia and Dave just before the wedding

At the foot of Wells Overlook tower, we gathered in a crescent, starting with a smudging ceremony once Ken managed to light the sage they brought from their California home and the cedar for their Kansas roots. Their vows shined like a full moon on a summer’s night, full of beauty, steady light, and overwhelming awe in ordinary weather. The wind blew surprise gusts, tossing the little table we set up for wedding ingredients. The shade and sun mingled also, and when it was over, everyone hugged everyone, especially the new pair.

Now I will rest my pair of feet, drink a pair of glasses of water, and feed the pair of insistent cats, and later perhaps dream of kayaks, rattlesnakes, and a pair of beloveds happy in their new homes.