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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

a love of bones

From exactly where, I could not say, but I love bones-- especially old, weathered skulls. To me, they are like art objects even as I know some might regard them as ghoulish. My home has them in assorted places around it-- some outside and some in.

We bury all the cattle or sheep who die on the place, but if a skull shows up years later, washed out by a storm or dug up by predators (yes, it's happened), it's fair game.

These bones, aged by nature, mostly came from the valley in which I live-- but a few were found on the desert. The last one was purchased in Mexico.

And the following is a mystery-- which is why I am posting on this subject. To what animal does this skull belong? We thought maybe coyote or fox but the photos we saw online don't look right for its shape. It was found in one of our fields without the front teeth but does have a side tooth that looks like a predator.

The painter, Georgia O'Keeffe, famously painted skulls from New Mexico. I have yet to use any of mine as models, but you never know-- maybe someday.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

When life ends

July 2013

For the last year, off and on, we have been expecting that our oldest cat was on his way out. Rallying, he has surprised us time and again. This last week he had quit eating. It could only be a matter of days. We had decided that if we went on vacation, we'd have taken just him as we couldn't leave him here to die alone.

What we wanted was for him to just go to sleep-- a gentle death for a gentle cat. I can't count the times I would look to see if he was still breathing, but he held on. He'd go outside as soon as he could and lie on the grass in the new yard. He would go over to the slow soaker hose and wait for me to turn it on as he loved to get his water that way, perhaps reminding him of his younger days. He drank some milk which we bought when he stopped eating other food. Up until his last night he would jump up on the sofa to watch a movie with us. That night he came in from outside on  his own four legs, but he went to his basket and didn't leave it.

July 25th, we woke to find he had died in the night. We let the other cats see his body so that they would understand what happened-- as much as maybe they can understand. Blackie would miss him as the two of them nuzzled and licked each other. Pepper never liked him and always growled or swatted if he got close. He never did anything back; so not sure what her issue was but it never changed.

For us, it was a sad event, not unexpected. In some ways, as with other elderly deaths I've been around, the essence of him had already left us. This was just the body finally giving up. We feared he'd get down at some point and we'd be forced to take him into the veterinarian to have him put to sleep. He saw his doctor the last time for his rabies shot in the spring and we all knew that there was nothing seriously wrong just the result of a body shutting down at about eighteen years old. No suffering, just more and more loss of faculties like hearing and bodily strength.

We are guessing at his age because he came as one of our strays. I remember when I first saw him at the house we had bought in Tucson. He'd be on a high shelf in the carport and run away when we came up. In the year 2000, I was at the house alone for a few months and he and I began to try to connect. I'd see him chased up trees by other cats and I'd go chase them off.

July 2000

Finally I tried directly approaching him with my hand out. He came toward me, hissing all the way. We were both taking a chance, but it was the beginning with what I called my black hunk.

He was always our hissy boy for that was the level of his violence toward other cats or humans. He had a quiet dignity that never left him. He was decidedly alpha cat in this house from the time he arrived but never did it with violence, just with demeanor.

His toughness came from having been on his own in that desert wash, which our home set above. It was a dangerous place for a cat but he had managed to survive and kill his food for at least several years. Once in awhile a rabbit's head would appear somewhere which might or might not have been his kill. I'd watch him look innocent, lying near where the birds or rodents were and spring when they got close enough for dinner.

That summer, he and I learned to trust each other, and I let him into the house not sure if he was housebroken to a box, but he was (when he was in the mood). He slept with me and when Farm Boss got down there, he hissed but accepted him too.

I couldn't take him home with me that first time as we were flying; and despite his being around us so much, we weren't totally sure that no one owned him. We asked the person who looks after our house to put cat food on the picnic table out back (which lured in a lot of birds those months) but when we came back in February, we asked again and found no one claimed him. He'd belonged to someone who had moved and asked the new owners to look after him except they really never did. He was known to the people there as B.B. and BB is what we called him for beautiful baby or big baby or black beauty. He was all of those things.

We took him to the veterinarian to get him tested for feline leukemia as we had two cats (not these two) up here in Oregon. He was fine; so he got the rest of his shots. The veterinarian assessed his age at five or six.

We were taking the van we had been leaving at our Arizona property (big mistake as packrats made it undriveable no matter how we tried to leave it protected in its carport). We bought him a cat carrier and off we drove and learned our first important lesson about him-- he didn't travel well.

Farm Boss had gone into a convenience store after fueling up the van. BB was on my lap and when Farm Boss came out, BB panicked and pooped all over my lap. To say that diarrhea came as a surprise is to put it mildly. Those were my favorite jeans. So there I was in a McDonald's parking lot stripping off the jeans with the shelter of the door of the van (could hardly walk into the restaurant with that on them) and changing into something else. If they hadn't been my favorites, they'd have gone into a garbage can but as it was, they went into a plastic bag to be dealt with later.

From then on anytime we ever took BB anywhere in a vehicle, we could count on him to pee and poop in the first few miles, and we took him a lot of times back to Arizona as he dearly loved it there.

May 2012 Tucson

 December 2012 Tucson

Even the last trip he rolled in the dirt, sniffed of the places he'd been as a kitten and then climbed the tree he had as a younger cat, surprising us tremendously. We no longer could let him just roam because he no longer could hear and didn't have the youthful strength to jump up onto the tall pool fence and then onto the roof (one of his favorite places from which to watch). So we'd let him walk around and we'd follow to give him the freedom we could without his ending up coyote food. He was our desert cat, but he did well up here also. He had particularly loved this last hot weather.

When he died, he did it with grace as he had done everything else in his life. BB lived his life fully to the end with bright eyes and alertness, even though deaf.

We buried him in our new garden. He loved being out there. It's my favorite spot to sit and I like knowing he'll be close even if not sitting under my feet. I've shed and likely will continue to shed tears over his loss even knowing this was the best way it could have ended. He had a quality life up to and including death.

You can't have a pet without accepting death as the end-- yours or theirs. He lived to a ripe old age. for a male cat especially, but he will be missed and never forgotten as is the case with all the beloved animals that we have lost through the years. I have to say though, of them all, he's among the most special in my heart.

On a positive note regarding life, that the arborist came out on Wednesday and his assessment is we won't have to cut down any of our trees. Of course, there is some risk living next to white oaks of their size and age (200 years) but there was a logical reason the branch split (drought) and we can do some things (water deeply every three weeks) to make that less likely in the future.

The crew will come out Monday and remove the limb on our roof, pruning back the branches that need to be taken out, but he gave us some ideas for creating props for the trees that are closest to the house enabling them to keep the branches that seem so much part of this place. So compromise and no tree stumps. He called them treasures and we agree with that. He also said they could well make it another hundred years. :)

Finally, the day BB died, a tiny, juvenile praying mantis showed up after Farm Boss had been trimming back a climbing rose. I always think of them as special, a symbol of stillness and peace. We settled the baby on the new hydrangea that had some aphids on its leaves. New life.

This was one of those weeks! I had Farm Boss move Quan Yin into our garden yard right above where BB is buried. I need to find my own peace about this loss. Expected-- yes. A blessing how he died-- yes. Still I grieve the loss as it was part of the love I had for him! He mattered and leaves a hole as all such losses do.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It was a still, full moon night

Old Fred Astaire movies were on TCM, and we had been watching the beautiful full moon rise. Farm Boss went outside to photograph it. Then I heard what sounded like firecrackers and him yelling for me to get outside the house NOW! Without the cats? I yelled but went out.

So there I stood wearing only my nightgown and in bare feet in our new garden asking him why the heck I should get out and repeating what about the cats. He said our big oak tree was falling on the house, about to destroy it, and it going down was the sound I heard. I can't describe the feeling from hearing that, as it's as if your world is safe and mundane one moment; then the next-- could it all be destroyed?

I knew these oak trees were nothing to take lightly as they are well over a hundred years old, one we know has an invasive rot at its base. At over a hundred feet tall, they have substantial weight. Such trees have killed the unwary when a tree suddenly falls for no known reason other than some crucial dynamics were finally met. I've heard huge crashes along the creek with absolutely no wind and only one possibility-- a mighty tree has fallen. When hiking in the woods or wading up a stream, pay attention to small sounds. They often are precursors.

We had been meaning to get an arborist out here to check on the one with the rot but just hadn't yet done it. We had also been meaning to have some of the big limbs cut off but again it's finding the right person as those limbs are way high and would be dangerous for the wrong person to remove. It takes an expert. We know people who were killed or crippled by a mistake where it comes to big trees.

To make a long story short, I walked down through the vegetable garden, which is on the safe side of the house, broke into our bedroom screen door, got dressed, and did what he said-- went to the trailer where he felt it'd be safe. He brought one of our three cats (the one he could catch) who thought it was a nice, if nerve wracking adventure as he alternately purred and bit me lightly.

About that time, Farm Boss decided the banging sound and his seeing the big tree trunk shaking had actually only been one big limb splitting, and it would be safe to go back inside for the night. Reality is that tree would only take out the kitchen, utility room and maybe his office if it totally split or became uprooted (something oaks can do especially very old ones).

So back to the house we went with the one cat, got the other one in from the garden, fenced yard where she had run when I left the screen ajar for her to get out if she couldn't be caught. The old one, who is on his way out of life, never knew anything happened.

Farm Boss was pretty sure the tree itself wasn't about to fall but just to sleep better, I asked him to turn the house power off. I figured if the tree did violently split in two or fall toward us, fire would be our biggest danger.

Anyway next morning we called our insurance (boy is that useless for such a thing unless damage to roof and structure amount to over $10,000 which means we should up our deductible to that, i guess) and then calling places who can look at trees for health and with the equipment to remove the biggest limbs-- like the one now laying on our roof.

I have treasured these oaks. I've sat many hours on the deck looking up into the mysteries of their heights. Their beauty never ceases to touch my heart. They are part of the essence of our property here. The house nestles into them with great naturalness and beauty. I have though never underestimated their potential danger. They say watch in the spring that all have the same time leaves first appear as that would be the first warning of a tree about to die.

Not long after we moved here, we heard how these oaks had had metal bands around them back when horses and wagons crossed the creek at the ford near our home. The metal bands had made sawing them down particularly difficult as the bands became part of the inner tree. The trees and this crossing have a history. Living on a pioneer homestead has these aspects.

Their history is important but so is life and letting them be this close to the house (two are twenty feet or less) is something that has to be evaluated seriously. The other aspect is they form a grove which means in a windstorm they protect each other. So take down one or two and what will that mean for the rest?

It will definitely require someone coming out to remove the heavy limbs that still overhang the house, certainly the one that split and landed partly on our roof; but this is the first time I have seriously considered cutting any of them down. Thought of a huge tree crashing into your home will do that for you.

Interestingly we have had plans to take the trailer on a little Oregon vacation. We have put off leaving for assorted reasons-- consulting work for Farm Boss, family fun, and ranch related responsibilities. If you didn't know, ranches, even the small ones, take a lot to get ready for owner absence. However, if we had been gone when this happened, it would have been a bad thing; so that's a good thing that we were here and can deal with it-- assuming we can get someone with the right skills out here. As for that vacation, it might just get postponed again...

Photos were all taken morning after the limb split. The one above shows the tree with the rot and you can just see the trunk of the one where a limb split and landed on the roof.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gasland 2

Recently we saw Gasland 2, and I recommend everyone see it whether they currently feel threatened by fracking or global climate change. The above map shows you how much of the nation is. For those who don't like to think politically, this political issue (and yes, it is one) is about the future of the physical world as we know it and even more, an abuse of power where corporations have bought out both parties in our country. It's where money talks and your personal health or well being--- pffffft!

We value our personal space, our lives but we just don't realize that our media and current government aren't on our side. From what he has said so far, Obama is not on our side. Neither party is. A lot of the information on hearings and data collected that the film discusses didn't make it onto any news programs-- including the so-called left wing programing.

Here's the thing. Government, media, they are not more powerful than us-- not if we get informed and act. It's a choice. We have options but not if we put our heads in the sand for what's happening, not if we are easily distracted by things that actually have less importance to our future lives.

Currently the film is on HBO, but I expect will eventually be on Netflix. Watch it. If you think you don't care, at least be informed. Don't just read the Koch brothers massive PR campaign on the benefits of natural gas. Watch this film-- then check out the facts it presents. It could make the difference for your children and grandchildren's lives. There are other alternatives for power but they don't make the money this one does. Really-- money is that important? It is to some.

After I saw this documentary, I had an urge to see Absolute Power, the 1997 film starring Clint Eastwood. It's a violent story, the kind I usually avoid, and like clockwork, it did lead to violent dreams that night. In the dream I saw that the bad guys could be recognized by a big bright red mark on their throats. Only some could see it though. In one case a man was assigned to be a protector, but the woman had the sixth sight that let her see the telltale markings. She then knew to run. It's a shame that real bad men don't have that kind of marking.

What makes Absolute Power so powerful is how well it illustrates what power tends to do as it makes someone feel immune to the rules. This doesn't just happen in politics, although it certainly showed up in Gasland 2 with our supposed elected representatives blocking the press from their public hearings. People worry about what Snowden has revealed so far about the government looking into who we call and our internet usage, but to me, it is far more serious when elected officials, put there by the people, can know that if what they are doing came out, they would have massive protests. They get away with it because not enough people care.

There is a particularly good quote in Absolute Power where one of the Secret Service agents explained why he could kill without conscience-- if it's the president it's all right. Anything is all right for the president. That kind of thinking ruins presidents and nations when its citizens lose track of real values...

To go along with this, we got a call last week from Rasmussen polling. Farm Boss was the one answering the questions. He said anytime it was where he might've answered favorable to Democrats or Obama, it flashed past so fast that his answer could not be recorded. If you've wondered why Rasmussen always ends up farther right than the rest, wonder no longer.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stand your ground?

A lot of us were upset by the Florida not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman (which doesn't mean innocent), but the bigger issue, to me, is the law that enabled one man to stalk another and then when the victim turned on him, to use a gun with intent to kill. The trial might be over but this law goes on and now has been interpreted to go way beyond self-defense.
The “stand-your-ground” law – when it interacts with race – can come perilously close to a return to the right to lynch black men in America – just for being be in the wrong place at the wrong time, for doing nothing wrong, except wearing a hoodie and carrying some Skittles. Perhaps the best way to react now is to raise awareness about these laws that all but sanction murder because in a one-on-one conflict, in which there are no reliable witnesses and in which one of the individuals is dead, reasonable doubt is a very hard hurdle to overcome. This verdict may give some racist vigilantes encouragement to single out and murder black men with a sense of impunity. That is simply unacceptable, to put it mildly. It is a terrifying reminder of how the past can become present again.
We must respect the jury’s decision. But we need not respect that law. And, unless we are to return to the era of lynching, it needs to be repealed.    Andrew Sullivan
This is the point. What stand your ground was intended to mean is if you are attacked when say coming out of a restaurant, you then have a right to defend yourself with lethal force if required. But if you start a fight, if you follow someone, if you say nasty words to them, then when they stand their ground, you, being the one with a gun, you have the right to slaughter them?

It's a law that needs to be rethought when it enables weaklings, such as Zimmerman's own attorneys painted him to be, to use deadly force to try to prove their manhood because nothing but a gun can do it.

It used to be that to even shoot someone in your home, you had to prove you were endangered. All Zimmerman could prove of his being endangered was a bloodied nose and a few small bloody spots on the back of his head where he went down and hit it on the sidewalk before the two ended up on the grass. Nothing happened to him that doesn't happen in any fist fight-- except he was carrying a gun and counting on his right to use it with this stand your ground law-- or was he sure he could use it because Trayvon was a black?

What happened that night wasn't stand your ground. It was a searching out of trouble, ignoring what the police said and then shooting to kill someone. When he pulled that trigger, with hollow point bullets intended to kill, pointing at the youth's chest, he knew he was about to kill.

Was it also racism? One has to wonder if the prosecution did a lousy job or didn't want to win the case. They let it be an all female jury without a single man or minority that wasn't also Hispanic. The people on that jury didn't understand what it's like to be black in this country, how they are guilty before they prove they are innocent. Did the prosecution only bring the case because they had to do it? When they allowed evidence as well as insert it themselves that led to doubt regarding Zimmerman's guilt, whose side were they really on? Did they throw the trial?

How about the other story coming out of Florida's legal system. A young mother, with a master's degree, had an acknowledged abusive husband who was ordered to leave her alone. When he came to her home, she tried to get away into the garage but could not; so she came back with a gun and fired it into the wall to frighten him off. The jury in Florida just gave her a 20 year sentence for that shot which killed and hurt nobody. Oh, did I mention she's black? 

To me, the ones defending Zimmerman and the things I hear from right wing pundits who have ignored any fact that didn't fit their version and Zimmerman's constantly reworked version, it is racism. From the start, the killer has been supported by the right wing-- economically and with their voices. By them he is admired. If that's amazing, it just shows how far they have fallen in terms of any recognition of true morality.

It appears, from what I read, that Zimmerman and his wife have neither one worked a day since this happened (fear dontchaknow). It has been right wing donations that enabled that. A guy whose own lawyers painted him as inept, that's the kind of man  stand your ground gun laws are supporting.

More in the video on my feelings about this but for anybody not viewing it, I think the whole nation needs to rethink these laws that do seem to enable a different kind of lynching; and if someone stands up for their 'rights,' someone of the wrong color, think that law will support them? It didn't the young black mother of three in Florida...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fox Story Continued

 Kwan Yin might be good for peace of mind. She looks like she should be.

Maybe when the fox story, so far as we are concerned, has been over, as in months from now, I can be more sanguine about the experience. I recognize we have just been a wayside along a wild animal family path. We had no say in what happened nor did we have any real control. I never wanted to get personally attached to any wildlife for those obvious reasons.

Sometimes the mother fox and I watch each other but with no real ability to communicate. I don't know what she thinks. I do know foxes should not trust humans. Perhaps she knows the same thing. It is my desire to make her understand I mean her well knowing it's not really a healthy thing for her to believe because some humans shoot or poison foxes.

Our experience has given me a lot of great photos of wild fox behavior with babies. Someday I'll put together a slide show. I also took some videos of them playing which I will also share but as part of the whole picture, I hope. I know I have been blessed with this kind of close connection to wild animals. I've researched them when before I never had any interest in such knowing. It also has had pain attached because I am not someone who can just take and enjoy what is in front of me. I project. Where it comes to foxes, where statistically most of their young are not raised to adulthood, caring isn't smart for a human

It's a tough life for animals that are both predator and prey. It's dangerous for those that live near highways. Last night when I heard the coyote yelping, I worried. Will Foxie, her partner and those three babies be safe? They are an ancient species and have been here since the mammal age began. The species will survive-- just not all of them. When you come to care for one little mama fox and her offspring, you aren't concerned with the species.

The following is a video discussing some of how I have seen this. Who knows how she sees it-- perhaps hopeful that we are those who can help without hurting her. I wish her the best in raising up her young, but I cannot do anything to make that happen-- even though I did get up and yell at the coyote to try to scare it away. However, as occurs a lot in life, I have to release the results of this experience. I have no control over what that might be.

Monday, July 08, 2013

summer gardens

In my many years, I have known a lot of gardens from flowers to vegetables. It seemed one of those things you just do as I grew up with parents who grew gorgeous flower gardens-- each with their own favorite section and type of flowers. I do not think I have ever appreciated one so much as this year after not having any vegetable garden last year due to poor conditions for getting the soil ready for planting. We let it rest and we are totally reaping the benefit this year.

We added a new garden space with room for corn (which the sheep temporarily derailed but is once again looking promising). The weather has been perfect for vegetables and everything is going gangbusters. We have yet to reap the first green beans, tomatoes or zucchini but it's close-- real close. And I am so enjoying our new space for the picnic table with new shrubs. It's a good year for being outside and with family.

I'd like to say that when I look at the outside world, I feel equally positive but it's a tough season for some reason and that appears to be not just our nation. Violence and meanness seem to be growing and with little excuse most of the time.

I do not know how it'll go with Egypt but any nation that looks the other way when women are raped and sexually abused, who uses religion as an excuse for meanness and cruelty, sorry but I have to think it's not going to end well.

Some want to defend religions as doing more good than harm. I'm not one of the 'some'. I am disgusted with those who use their fundamentalist faith as an excuse to browbeat others-- and that happens around the world.

I also don't think all religions are equal. If a religion leads people to ignore science, to justify whatever it wants based on faith, that's a lousy system no matter what name it is called by.

Here's the thing-- plant in good soil. Tend the garden. You reap what you sow-- and trying to ignore that based on some divine god overlooking the wrong doing, that doesn't work in a vegetable garden or life. Failure of a system is just more obvious in the vegetable garden-- or maybe comes quicker. It can be fixed though-- sometimes requires starting over but someone has to admit it didn't and doesn't work for that to happen...

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Independence Day

 Independence-- autonomy, freedom, self-determination, potency, power, resilience, strength

In the United States, as we celebrate the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, we are facing many issues as to what kind of people we want to be. Independence and what that means is a good thing to think about anytime but maybe especially on a day when we celebrate our founding.

Independence Day from Rain Trueax on Vimeo.