Sunday, January 31, 2016

washing the rice

Edward Espe Brown, perhaps best known as the author of the Tassajara Bread Book, once asked his Zen teacher for advice on how to approach his new role as head cook. Roshi said something like:

"When you're washing the rice, wash the rice; when you're cutting the carrots, cut the carrots; when you're stirring the soup, stir the soup."

I heard Brown relate this story in a film some years ago, and I've drawn upon it countless times since. In recent weeks, I've brought it to mind daily. Many times daily. Usually aloud.

"When I'm carrying the water bucket...when I'm shifting this hay bale...when I'm folding this laundry...when I'm filling the woodbox..."

There hasn't been much actual washing of rice. There has been stirring of soup. And there has been a lot of frozen food and toast and - Decadence Alert! - grapefruit purchased already segmented.

"When I'm walking with Piper..."

"When I'm sawing this board...

"When I'm breathing through this pain and trying to sleep..."

I have accomplished very little that wasn't strictly necessary in January, but the stuff that was truly necessary has been done. And that's got to be enough.
It is enough.

I want to say a heartfelt "thank you" to everyone who left a comment on my most recent post, or who sent me an email, or a message on ravelry. Every word meant a lot to me. My silence since has not meant a lack of appreciation. I hope you know that. I believe you know that. Thank you.

Today's post feels somewhat scattered, but I'm going to go ahead and put it up. My recent communication attempts have been rusty and clunky, and challenged by even the 140-character limit of twitter. This post is probably the closest I've come to coherence in a while.

Wait...can coherence be scattered?

See what I mean? 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kitty Rex

On 29 November 2014, I met Kitty Rex at the Pat Brody Shelter for Cats.

Kitty Rex had been brought to the shelter when his previous staff, an older woman, had passed away. His background information was scant: 15-17 years old, one home, always an indoor cat. He was given a vet check and kept in the quarantine area for one month, before joining one of the groups in the adoption rooms.

The cats at the Pat Brody Shelter are not in crates; they share large rooms filled with things to climb on, things to get inside of, cozy sleeping spots, windows with an interesting view, and cat-sized doors leading to large, safely enclosed decks which are also designed with cat entertainment and comfort in mind. Visiting the shelter and spending time with the cats both in the big rooms and outside on the decks is a pleasant experience.

One of the lovely outdoor areas

When I visited, Kitty Rex had been in one of the group rooms for just a short time; I think it was only a few days. He was very thin and quiet; not opposed to attention but not seeking it. Whatever his previous life had been like, his world had been turned upside down in recent weeks. He was extremely fortunate to have landed with the wonderful, caring Pat Brody Shelter volunteers, but it had nevertheless been change upon change for a very mature cat. He came home with me that day, in a borrowed carrier and with his own luggage: a package of his favorite treats, a personal handmade blanket and a fat catnip snake provided by his friends at the shelter.

Kitty Rex unpacked his catnip snake right away

When we met, Kitty Rex had a different name, provided by the person who had brought him to the shelter. Maybe it had been his name for 15 years, but if so, he apparently decided to take this opportunity to make a change. From the moment he arrived, he ignored that name totally but would respond brightly to a simple "kitty," as in, "Where's that Kitty?" when I came back in from outdoors.

And he may have been an indoor cat for his entire previous life, but I doubt it. Or maybe he was ready for a change there, too. Despite all that deep snow last winter, Kitty Rex would often make it clear that he would like to have a little look outside, from the back doorstep.

But just in case Kitty Rex would prefer to be an indoor cat, when the porch project was underway last December I asked the carpenter to make slightly wider-than-usual windowsills.
"How wide?" he asked.

This wide.

Although I would have been perfectly content if Kitty Rex had decided to spend all his days snoozing and relaxing, he chose to adopt a "work hard/nap hard" approach to life. And it was on one of his earliest visits to the barnyard that Kitty Rex revealed his name.

I was working in the barn paddock when all the goats suddenly froze, staring at one point near the house. I looked up quickly, expecting to see a moose, a fox, a coyote....

What I saw was a little orange cat, walking along, paying no attention to the goats whatsoever. My goats have seen cats before, without this "Predator Alert! It's a Lion!" response. It was very surprising. I said, "My word, Kitty, you seem to be the new King who rules Goat World! You must be Kitty Rex!"

Kitty Rex began to accompany me on morning and evening chores, every day. He directed the garden preparation in Spring and the planting and weeding in Summer. He supervised every one of my carpentry projects and the recent installation of the new hay feeders. And he always, always kept the daily barn chores from becoming tedious. This is a big job, this chore-tedium-prevention, and it takes a big character to do it.

Although he usually stayed in the house unless I was outside, Kitty Rex had his own little door providing access during daylight hours to the fenced area (there's a reason my perimeter fence has always been 6 feet high and 2x4" mesh). I would occasionally catch a flash of golden-red through a window, and know that Kitty Rex had decided to enjoy a bit of fresh air. I'd sometimes see him stretching up to sharpen his claws on a tree trunk or heading purposefully for a certain spot near a pile of stones where a mouse or chipmunk might recklessly appear.

Soon afterward I would hear the sound of the cat door opening as Kitty Rex returned, for a snack and a beverage and perhaps a nap. He selected napping and observation spots in every room, and sometimes accepted my efforts to make them more comfortable. Because although he gained a little weight over time, Kitty Rex was still an older kitty with very little padding.

But even if he was sound asleep when I headed outside for my usual routines, it was very rare - I'm not sure it ever happened - that Kitty Rex did not appear while I was in the paddocks or barns.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter - rain or shine - anytime I was out doing chores I could look up from the wheelbarrow or the water buckets and say, "Where's Kitty Rex?" and in a moment see those fox ears rise up from amongst the summer ferns, or spot a silhouette quietly observing from a nearby vantage point as the moon rose on a Winter evening. And when chores were done, I would say, "Shall we go in?" And sometimes in wet or cold weather Kitty Rex would allow me to pick him up and warm his cold feet in my hand on the way to the house, but mostly he would become impatient with even this brief coddling, and would insist on being back on the ground - or the snow, or the ice - leading the way.


In November and December, after a sudden series of visits to veterinarians and specialists, we began a daily program of at-home medication which made possible a comfortable and active life for several weeks.

And on 6 January 2016, a gentle, caring veterinarian eased Kitty Rex's passing while I held that orange head in my hands, and thanked Kitty Rex for choosing to share every day of chores, every day of working in the gardens. Every day of a perfect year.

I have taken hundreds of photographs of Kitty Rex, but I always felt that he was a self-contained and private creature, very interested in the photographic process, but not at all interested in being the photographic subject. I rarely felt that one of my images represented the true Kitty Rex. I believe this may be my most successful portrait:


Since Wednesday, I have pondered whether it would feel right to share these images and write about Kitty Rex. Here's why, this morning, I decided to do it:

If even one of my readers is ever thinking about adopting a cat or cats - and if Kitty Rex had made a friend at the shelter I absolutely would have adopted them both together - I would like to gently suggest that you consider not just the kittens and youngsters, but also the older cats. They may have a shorter time to share your world, but what a world of joy they can bring in the time they share.

Fare you well, Kitty Rex.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

a week of winter

A week ago, the weather finally shifted into Winter.

Billions of tiny ice pellets fell from the sky, met a surface of unseasonable mud, and formed a layer of frozen slush with a smooth crust strong enough to support my weight. In fact, it supports the weight of even the heaviest goats and is very slippery. All the goats are having trouble getting around, as am I.

Then there was a light snowfall.

And another.

This made the ice look like a soft and harmless dusting of snow, but in fact it made the ice even more slippery.

Despite the metal cleats attached to my huge insulated muck boots, this surface can take me down. I have fallen flat at least three times, and "caught" myself several more times.

do you think falling is worse than doing that awful jolt-and-flail in an effort to keep from falling? I'm not sure; I think it may be easier on the body to Just Fall. But it's painfully reflexive, that adrenaline-flavored effort to stay on one's feet. I never seem to have a nanosecond to choose whether to relax or fight gravity.

Piper has the right idea about how not to fall:

remain airborne as much as possible.


It's been gloomy and grey quite a lot this week. And very, suddenly, bitterly cold. Time to start feeding the wild birds! Before putting the "squirrel-proof" feeder back up, I scattered handfuls of seed on the ice and was thrilled when a flutter of little birds appeared only minutes later. Here are some (pretty terrible) pictures, taken through hazy grey air in the late afternoon:

(I am not expecting a call from the Cornell Ornithology Lab
asking to use these images. Heh.)

Saturday brought a welcome change: the sky was blue and the sun was bright. Saturday is the day my town dump is open, so I loaded my bag of Still Making An Effort at Cleaning the House rubbish onto the hayboggan and slid it - wheeee! - down the driveway to where the Little Green Sportswagon is parked at the bottom. And there I found a little gem of ferny glory, lit through with morning sunlight:

Such a relief for eyes weary of gloom!

When I did the evening chores tonight, it was 9F (-13C). After feeding and watering everyone, I sat in the barn for a while, wrapped from head to knees in my ancient down coat but still feeling the cold of the barn wall gradually reaching my shoulders like one of my icepacks. In the dark, I listened to the sound of Dara pulling hay from the manger on my left and chew-chew-chewing away. I just love that sound. Then I had stereo, when one of the kids (I think it was Tansy, but I couldn't see her in the dark) started nibbling hay on the other side of the barn. Through the open doors I could see the lights on the tree, reflected from window to window on the porch. Like this:

This makes me so happy.
It may become a new tradition for me:
not just a Christmas Tree, but a Winter Tree.

Makes sense, really, since the association of a decorated, lighted tree with Christmas is very recent - Queen Victoria, was it? - while the bringing indoors of greenery and light in Winter is old. Maybe as old as the human need for hope and cheer in a cold, dark season.

Right this moment, for example, it's after 3 AM.
I've been awake since midnight with a few aches and pains.
Not complaining; it's just the way it is.
But this is my view from bed:

So magical.
Better than narcotics.

Good night :)