Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Cat Tree Frolics and Follies

Cat trees are wonderful.  The kittens scamper up and down it all through the day and I'm relieved that those needle-sharp claws are ripping into it and not the furniture or my leg.  Big and clunky, the cat tree's taken up valuable space in our garage for many years and almost got thrown into the trailer for a one-way trip to the Milton landfill on numerous occasions.  One reason it stayed is that our yellow cat, Poom,  occasionally enjoys sleeping there.  Admittedly, that's not much of a reason, but it was enough to have me change my mind every time I almost tossed it.  I recently discovered that new ones cost around $200, which I could never justify paying for a cat jungle-gym/bed (the one we have was given to us).

Last week Poom was surprised and delighted when he found that "his" cat tree was back in the living room where it belonged.  He hopped up on the top perch and got right to work playing with the dangly catnip mouse.  At first he didn't know quite what to do when Hecuba wanted to join in the fun, but he couldn't resist batting gently at her as she also went for the mouse.  This turned into a game between them and things looked good for a few minutes.  Unfortunately Hecuba spotted Poom's fat, fluffy tail hanging down the other side and it proved irresistable.  Poom's attitude shifted in an instant over to the dark side and he was escorted outside for a bit of a time out.


...was going so well...

...until that fluffy tail showed up

Poom has left the building.  Hecuba invites TimTom up

The kittens are learning how far they can go with the big cats without getting swatted and the big cats are gradually accepting the presence of these rambunctious children in their midst.  Baby steps.


Monday, June 26, 2017

An Overabundance of Gophers

Botta's Pocket Gopher - courtesy of Wikipedia

Frogpond (and every hill for miles around) is infested by gophers.  This spring they are everywhere:  in the gardens near the house and down in the lower garden; in the compost pile and underneath the chicken coop; all through the orchard and in the raised beds (even the ones lined all around with fine-mesh wire).  They have tunnels in my outdoor potted plants and have also managed to dig under the gravel of our driveway.

We've always had varying degrees of problems with gophers, but nothing like the magnitude of this destruction that is decimating just about everything I've got growing.



When we went shopping yesterday, our chrysanthemums had flowers.  When we came home, not so much.

I also noticed that our driveway sunflower was leaning forwards at an odd angle.  I brought the hose over to give it a drink and then noticed the gnaw-marks all the way around the stem.

A young oak I grew from an acorn - completely girdled

Apple tree in the orchard

Lady Banks Rose -- it's planted within a wire cage,
but gophers went over it

I work hard at not being too emotionally invested in my Frogpond garden(s).  Over the years I've learned that most plants here don't make it to maturity.  Between drought, heat, cold, wind, deer, and gophers, I have many more failures than successes.  It pays not to become too attached -- I'm happy when a plant or crop does well (apparently gophers don't like garlic) and remember to breathe and let go when, as is more often the case, they don't.  This spring I'm doing a lot of breathing and letting go.

That said, we're also out to do in as many of them as possible (but no poison, fumes or anything like that).  I don't possess much of a killer instinct, but if I'm holding a shovel and a gopher shows up, my Neanderthal instincts kick in and I know what to do.  That surprises and pleases me in equal measure.

Both dogs have learned how to hunt gophers, but Chance has developed quite the skill in pouncing on them in the tall grass.  Bruce got these pictures of him after weeks of trying to capture the entire sequence.

A gopher rustles in the grass

The leap

Mid-air adjustments

The pounce

Of the resident cats, Max is by far the most skilled and averages two to three gophers a day.  He eats most of each one he catches, but generally leaves some parts behind as evidence of his good work.  I go out with a shovel every morning to clean up what he's left for me.

Even ancient Arby (missing half of his teeth), is catching gophers.  He likes to do his hunting down by the pond.  Unfortunately, he'll catch one, very gently bring it up to the house to meet me, and then drop it.  As far as he's concerned, mission accomplished.  Only a bit drooled on, the fortunate gopher  beats a fast retreat to the nearest hiding place while Arby sits cleaning a paw.  All the gophers hope that should they get caught by a cat, that the cat doing the catching is Arby.

Other years, Bruce has set gopher traps with moderate success, but this year he's hunting them with his 22.   While watching him creep with his rifle through the orchard yesterday, I was reminded of Elmer Fudd.  They have similar techniques.  I wrestled with myself on whether I should share my observation or if that might not be the kind of joke to make to someone who is actively battling for the lives of my plants.  Before I could say anything, Bruce turned, put his fingers to his lips, and whispered, "Shhh!  Be vewy, vewy, quiet!".

I'll add that the Elmer Fudd technique is working -- Bruce added ten to the tally yesterday.

In some respects, getting rid of all these gophers seems hopeless.  There are so many of them.  I'm curious why we're having a rodent explosion this particular year.  Does this have something to do with the above-average rains this year?  I also notice that we have no rattlesnakes showing up here yet.  We don't exactly lay out the red carpet for them, but I have to say that the snakes do a fine job of thinning out the rodents.  Could the rains have washed them away?  We also have several pairs of barn owls nesting in two of the three owl boxes we put up.  At dusk we watch them crisscross overhead like small, luminous ghosts as they hunt.  They obviously are very busy -- so why so many gophers?

In the end, we'll just have to carry on with dispatching as many gophers as we can while waiting for nature to bring things into balance again.  Things have a way of working out.  I'll plant fewer roses and more garlic.  Breathe and let go.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Rake Handle

Not ever beautiful, it remained useful even after its metal tines broke off.  We would grab it when herding reluctant geese, knocking pine cones down out of the tree, propping things open, poking into the bushes to shoo out chickens, and so on.  It stayed close at hand;  leaned up against the outside wall of the barn or chicken coop.  For years it was rained on in the winter and sun-baked all summer until the wood was parchment dry, beginning to crack and the ends were rough and broken.

Mama was up visiting one day this spring and needed a bit of steadying as we walked down the slope of the road to the pond.  The old rake handle proved perfect for that job too.  Appreciating its sturdiness, Mama liked leaning on it.  An idea was born.

I wrote my brother, Michael (who lives in Austria), about this project and discovered that he had actually made a walking stick of his own.  Through sketches, photos and descriptions over the internet he guided me on how to transform an old rake handle into a walking stick.  With his coaching, the wood was sanded, conditioned and waxed.  He taught me how to wrap leather tightly to make a hand grip and suggested the rubber foot to give it traction.  It was a team effort across two continents.

The leather hand grip

The rubber foot

The finished walking stick
It wasn't ready by Mother's Day, but Michael reminded me that it was better to get it right than try to meet a deadline.  Of course he was correct.

It was finally finished and I presented it to Mama a few weeks ago.
She was delighted and I was happy to have been able to work on a project with a brother who lives so far away.  

And I believe that the stick, in its own fashion, was also pleased.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Kittens

Why have I put off writing about these two new additions for so long?  Most likely because, although cats are my favorite animal, four is too many for this household.  I want to cut down on the cans of cat food we have to buy and serve up and I'd like to live in a house with less hair on the floor to sweep up.  I'd determined that two was the ideal number, but realistically decided that we'd end up with three.  Arby, bless his dear soul, is almost twenty and so is sweet Multi-pass.  Both are currently doing well, but their time here on Earth is coming to an end.  Then we would only have Max and Poom -- both five years old.  My plan was to add in another Siamese-type to the group when we were down to just two.  So much for plans.

I visited my friend, Dorothea, in mid-May.  When I arrived, she was holding a tiny kitten to her chest and feeding it milk replacer from a syringe.  "I was thinking about you,"  she said.  This is because there were five more in a crate in the bathtub and she was already thinking about new homes for them.  They'd been born in between bales of hay stacked on a pallet on a nearby farm.  Dorothea's husband bought the hay and the entire pallet -- along with the kittens (but no Mama) -- had been delivered. They were about two weeks old and Dorothea brought them inside and got right to work saving their lives.  And then I walked in the door.

When she first asked me if I'd be interested in taking one, I immediately told her I was sorry, I couldn't.   I was downsizing.  I had too many cats.  Too much hair on the floor.  And so on.  But Dorothea is a dear friend and I was in a position to help her by taking at least one of these kittens.  So I soon changed my answer to a reluctant "Yes, I'll take one,".  However, I already knew in a certain part of my brain that if I got any kittens at all, two might not be better for me, but would definitely be better for them.

Here are my two on the afternoon I brought them home.  TimTom is on the left and Hecuba on the right.  They were loaded with fleas, so I called my vet and, amazingly, they were able to see them early the next morning.  The staff loved these bundles of flea-infested cuteness and after the vet checked them over, she and two assistants bathed them in kitten flea shampoo and picked and combed out the fleas for over half an hour.  The tub was black with them and I don't know how that many could have found enough skin to stand upon on such tiny hosts.  TimTom and Hecuba were not delighted with all of this, but put up with everything fairly well.  Hecuba only bit her bather once.

Hecuba not enjoying her spa treatment

TimTom wishing he were somewhere else

Using tweezers to remove fleas

Back home again:  Relieved, very clean and no fleas

Four weeks have now passed.  The kittens growth is rocketing along and those wobbly bundles of fluff are now scampering around on ever-longer lean legs.  They're also growing into those enormous ears.         


Lovely Hecuba

Selfie (that's my ear and bathrobe) with Kittens

Arby's pretty cool with the little brats
Poom's tail about to be attacked

The "new" cat tree (from the garage)

Little Rulers of the Universe

The older resident cats are, in varying degrees, adjusting to the newcomers.  Of all of them, Arby is the most accepting.  I'd worried that he would suffer from jealousy, but he mostly just regally ignores him.  Multi-pass, the other old kitty, is also taking them in stride.  The youngest cats, Poom and Max are having the hardest time.  Poom comes inside, but hisses and yowls if they approach him.  Max is very upset and won't even come in the house anymore.  I feed him on the porch rail and he spends time with me when I work outside.  Things will gradually re-align and work out with my six-cat population.  And me?  I'm also becoming re-aligned myself as I open countless cans of cat food and sweep hair off the floor.  I've found that not only did these little ones need me; I also needed them.  So we're in a good place.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Heat Wave

It's hot.  We're on day number five of a seven-day heat wave that covers a very wide region.  The daytime temperatures are ranging from 103 to 108 and every outdoor living thing is suffering (things like rocks are doing just fine).  Our air conditioner broke on the first day, so we humans had some discomfort in the house. However,  good wall and ceiling insulation, fans whirring away in each room, and keeping the doors closed as much as possible kept the house reasonably comfortable (the repairman came yesterday and now we have wonderful, cool air circulating in the house).  Outside it's a different story -- bringing relief to all of my hot, dry, thirsty children there is a challenge.

In back of the house, the potted lilies are just coming into bloom.  I planted them last autumn and after all those months of care, I'm not ready to give up on them.  Last weekend, Bruce and I strung the tubing for a mister system from the trees and now the lilies are wafted by cool droplets during the heat of the day.  They still look a bit fried, but they're hanging in there.  The Tupelo trees that hold the tubing also glitter with the mist and are thrilled to
be a part of this miniature rain forest.

Water is such a problem here -- or, should I say, lack of water.  Even after a winter of heavy rains, the well recharges slowly and when I run the hose in the garden I always carefully keep my eye on the water level in the tank.  When the level dips too low, I have to turn everything off and wait until the tank fills again.  This makes outside watering a very time-consuming process.  I'll leave the hose running gently on a tree or shrub and come back in the house for twenty minutes or so.  Then I'll go back out, check the level of the tank, and if the level's high enough, move the hose to the next plant, go back inside and do something for the next twenty minutes.  If the tank was getting low, I'll have to turn off the hose and wait for awhile before running it again.  And that's how I water during a heat wave.

Frogpond is an oasis for wildlife, especially after a winter of substantial rain.  Deer regularly come to the pond to wade and drink, and this morning I surprised a large, big-eared jack rabbit down on the banks by the willows.  The wild birds shelter beneath the branches of the shrubs I've watered and many spend time under the misters.  They also splash and bathe in the livestock water troughs (I float a few sticks in them to give them something to stand on).  Toads, frogs, lizards and (alas) even mice and gophers come in close to our home.  Haven't seen any snakes yet this summer, but I'm sure they're around too.

This extremely optimistic sunflower is the only one that we have, as none of the ones I planted in the garden came up.  It came up on its own on the edge of the gravel drive in front of the horse pen.  No doubt it was planted by a bird.  When I eventually noticed the tiny plant, I admired its determination and decided to help it along.  So it got a ring of rocks, a bit of mulch and the occasional watering.  It's now in full flower and every afternoon in this heat I place a garbage can behind it so it's shaded during the hottest part of the day.  It's only about two feet tall, but healthy and thriving.

We also put up misters in the chicken coop and early this morning I strung some up from the beams of the horse pen for Bucky and Cornelius.

The hens have had mist before, so they're used to hanging out underneath it.  Corny and Bucky aren't so sure of that wet stuff coming down, but that didn't keep them from their breakfast.

The dogs spend most of the day inside, but the adult cats like to sleep in shade outside.  The kittens, of course, have to stay inside, but they insist on sleeping in spots of sun.

TimTom and Hecuba -- blissfully oblivious to weather

So that's what it's been like here for the past five days and for the next two.  Next week is supposed to be cooler, with temperatures in the mid-nineties. We're looking forward to that.