Sunday, November 29, 2009

If You Don't Like "Cat and Mouse", Don't Look!

Eggnog, is one of the sweetest-natured cats who has ever lived with us. She is placid, never one to make an uproar.  We sometimes comment tolerantly that perhaps she is not the "brightest" of cats.  Still, when I saw her lurking interestedly in the pantry on Friday morning I should have recalled that she has always been quick to note the rare presence of a mouse.  I was busily packing items to take with us to Howard and Heidi's--the new teakettle, fresh salad makings, butter--mentally ticking off my list and filling a basket with perishables.  Eggnog eventually wandered off for a nap and I tried to ignore that Charlie was now hovering in the pantry.  Charlie is an amiable buffoon, a klutz, and not to be taken seriously.
However, I have recently stocked the pantry shelves with winter stores of red beans, white beans, pearled barley, cornmeal--most of these staples tidied away in glass or plastic containers. On the floor of the pantry reposed a 25# bag of unbleached flour, a 25# bag of raw sugar and a rank of small cooking appliances and oddments.  I didn't want to undertake a mouse patrol, neither did I want to think of a mouse messing about with the supplies. 
With Charlie at my elbow, I began cautiously shifting items on the pantry floor, hauling things out into the kitchen. Several cats arrived to see what I might be doing.  I was almost satisfied that this was a false alarm, when moving a basket containing neatly folded paper bags, I saw a fat mouse cowering in the corner. Startled, I let out a yelp, which in turn sent Charlie out of the pantry. The mouse scooted past my knee and ran in dizzying circles around three sides of the pantry. Charlie crouched at the edge of the island unit and when I reached for him, darted out of reach. I scooped up Teasel and plumped her into the pantry, whereupon she immediately snatched the mouse and ran for the bedroom.  I had no clear plan of action at this point, but was sure I didn't want the mouse to take up residence in the bedroom or squeeze under the closet door to die in my sweaters or in one of my best shoes!  Fetching a broom from the entry, I followed a convoy of cats into the bedroom.  On the way I picked up my camera--after all, everything that happens is a worthy photo op! 
Our huge lodgepole bedframe sits solidly with only a few inches to spare between its rails and the floor. From this space came Teasel's warning rumble as several cats gathered to see what she had. Flattened on the bedside rug, I peered into the dim and slightly dusty cavern under the bed.  The first thing I noticed was several of the toy mice which the cats smack about for fun. The second thing I saw was that Teasel, rather than speedily dispatching the mouse, was letting it go, then patting it with a playful paw.
At this point J., home from errands, entered to see me and a row of cats, bottoms up and intent on activity under the bed.  The flurry of his arrival sent Teasel and the mouse  rushing inches from my face as they exploded from under the bed.  J. yanked a dresser away from the wall to find the mouse climbing the back of it. Jemima scaled the dresser in one leap and MEOWED at the mouse, who fell from the heights, shot between J.'s feet. careened past me with an army of felines in hot persuit. We wove through the kitchen and out to the entry. Charlie triumphantly seized the mouse and brought it behind the rocking chair in the dining area where he could gloat. J. attempted to herd Charlie toward the entry, Charlie let go of the mouse which scurried, squeeking madly, behind the cats' water dispenser. Bracing myself for the kill as J. tweeked the container aside, I watched as he grasped the mouse by the tail and carried it out through the garage to release it--alive--and probably well enough to invade again.  Charlie gave J. a bewildered look, Teasel, disgruntled, stomped off, Eggnog returned to her nap on the bed, the "kittens" bustled around their dad-cat, Charlie, as if to say, "What happened, where did it go?"
We continued packing--and continue now to wonder how the mouse got in--the second one this month to find entry into a nearly new house.
The odds of two humans and 8 cats against one poor tiny mouse isn't very good sport, but I am reluctant to share even a grain of rice or a single lentil with mouse-kind.

Teasel under the bed with her victim and a fuzzy toy mouse ironically sharing the photo.

Charlie with his prize. Astonishingly, the mouse seemed quite uninjured with all this handling by its captors.

Wildlife Photos From This Week's Travels

We drove to Casper last Monday by way of Muddy Gap. We saw many groups of antelope. These were near the highway.  When we pulled over and put the window down to attempt photos, they dashed away in a rush. They can put on incredible speed for short distances.

On Friday afternoon we saw these two moose in the dense shrubbery near a creek just outside of Boulder. WY. These were taken from the open window of the car, and the standing moose began to move off as I attempted to zoom in closer, so my other photo of them was a blur.

On the road that leads from Pinedale to Cora we slowed as we saw three deer ahead in the road.

The three were at the head of a group of perhaps 9 deer.  A magnificent buck was evidently herding his harem and offspring from one side of the road to the other.  You can see him at far left of the photo with his "rack" poked through the fence. In the distance are the "backside" of the Wind River Mountains--the opposite side of the peaks that are fore-shortened here by our closeness to the foothills. The road heads north and the late sun laid a cloth of pure gold from the west to the high snow covered peaks of the eastern horizon.

This pretty doe stood facing us with a fawn at her side.

A few miles before we turned onto Forty Rod Road [where Howard and Heidi live] we saw these two buck and a doe. The buck on the left was the bigger of the two and he seemed to be headed with malicious intent toward the smaller male.

The two buck met and faced each other a bit menacingly. I beleive they noticed that we had stopped to watch them and maybe were distracted from a confrontation.

On Saturday morning I saw this lone bird hopping about in front of the woodpile just outside H. and H.'s window which faces the drive. Heidi informed me that it is a Purple Finch.  A look through her bird book suggests that this is a variant coloring particular to the Northwest--a "grey-capped purple finch."

The Finch in silhouette on a chunk of firewood.

Driving home today, a fine, dry afternoon, J. took the Big Sandy cutoff.  There are several short cuts from the main road which follow trails carved out by wagons on the Oregon Trail. Much of the way is seasonal road and not maintained during the months of snow and spring mud. There were numerous groups of deer. At this time of year their coats are a dull grey-brown and they blend with the faded sagebrush and the strewing of dark boulders. Sometimes I don't spot the deer until I see the distinctive "muley" ears against the sky.  Note the deer in the top left of the photo, peering warily from behind a large hump of rock.

We saw several eagles on this trip---most either at a distance or at a point on the roadway where it wouldn't be wise to stop. We decided this was a golden eagle, then dithered, thinking it could be a vulture. Before I could adjust the camera's zoom or get out to try for a closer shot, the bird flapped off.  A short distance away four ravens sat in a row on a flat-topped rock, glistening black backs turned to the slanting sun.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Dinner

I used to tell myself [and anyone who would listen] that one of these years I would do it all properly: tablecloth starched and pressed to crispness, candles lit, a "centerpiece", relishes and pickles all in the heirloom dishes.  At this point I realize that is not going to happen.  We are not a formal family.  I didn't want a formal eating area in this small house and this is my favorite of the kitchens I have helped to design in the houses J. has built.  Here you see SIL carving the turkey, while J. and grandson D. fall upon the food, which I set out on the island behind the small table.  Daughter G. is feeling recovered from the illness which caused her to miss a day or two of work--thankfully not a full blown flu. She didn't "dress" for the occasion, but came down in jeans and a warm "hoodie." She stirred the gravy while I arranged condiments and J. mashed the potatoes with more butter and cream than I would have done.

I feel that I cannot invite guests who don't like cats!  D. caught our old Raisin on the sink counter top licking  the drippings in the pan. Raisin has always been a bit fragile and prone to a delicate stomach.  She is looking old and frail and boney, so we indulge her in whatever [and where ever] she fancies to eat.

Charlie [left] the dad cat, loves to have anyone come in.  He makes a nuisance of himself looking for attention.  D. stooped to pat Maisie [right] and Charlie immediately rushed in to push her out of the way and hog the limelight.

Charlie in full possession of the hassock and draped in D.'s napkin.
Oh yes, the napkins: I realized I had no paper napkins in stock, remembered this fabric which I bought several years ago meaning to make harvest themed placemats.  So, fabric sliced into squares and folded.  I'll do some sort of hem finish on them and put them away til next Thanksgiving.

We enjoyed our meal, but didn't over eat, and decided to save the dessert pie for later.  D. appeared for his just as I finished putting the kitchen to rights an hour later, J. and I had ours for tea.  D. appeared again, grinning, at suppertime with a variety of small containers and the "orders" for various leftovers--perhaps the best part of such a meal.
I couldn't help thinking of the innovations which would have amazed our grandmothers, maybe even our mothers.  I used a package of cubed and seasoned "stuffing mix", adding dried parsley grown in Heidi's mountain garden, a pinch of celery salt, some dried apple I had on hand. [After realizing that J. made applesauce last week from all the fresh apples.]  The turkey, stuffed and seasoned, was gently tucked into a "roaster bag" which kept it moist without basting, there was no messy pan to scrub.  I'm almost ashamed to say that I bought a package of rolls to heat at the last minute, rather than making them as I usually do.  And, perhaps most astonishing, the dishes, all but the few kettles and pans used, went into the dish washer.
I'm probably sounding by now like an advertisement for all sorts of "modern conveniences"---but I have to admit that this last minute feast went well, mainly because I took advantage of available short cuts. With everything cleared away, family dispersed to their house next door and J. tinkering outside in the slanting afternoon sunshine, I sat down with a lovely and leisurely mug of tea.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Baking

Pumkin Pie set out to cool.  It will be served with whipped cream for dessert tomorrow.

For the past two years the younger family members next door have orchestrated the Thankgiving feast, inviting cousins and friends.  I have liked that, being required only to produce a few pies and dinner rolls for the event. I could enlist grandson to carry food and extra chairs across the adjoining yard, enjoy the rather noisy company for an hour or two and then stroll back to my own quiet realm.

 By Monday I began to suspect that they weren't organizing anything this year.  SIL and grandson had planned to attend a sporting event, but had to cancel. Daughter G. has been at home from her teaching duties, having finally succumbed to some variety of illness making the rounds.  J. and I were all day on errands in Casper on Monday, a 2 and 1/2 hour drive each way.  I spotted a new Super Wal Mart just behind one of the building supply places we visited, and with a feeling of, "Errrr, someone needs to plan Thanksgiving dinner," we hurried in to purchase a frozen turkey and some yams.  I did a bit of local shopping last night and announced [with a tinge of martydom] that I would produce a harvest dinner.

I enjoy traditional holiday food, I like to bake, however, the occasion seemed simply to descend on me this year while I wasn't looking!
I was out of the quilt shop early today, and hurried home to start the baking.  A large tin of pumpkin has turned into the above pictured pie and a loaf of pumpkin/raisin bread---quite appealing--I just had two slices liberally spread with butter.  I baked a small blueberry pie for J. who doesn't relish pumpkin, tucked a larger blueberry pie in the freezer for future reference.
Daughter has struggled from her bed and phoned to inquire in a raspy voice if they should prepare anything for the communal meal.  I have it well in hand, and there is the suggestion that SIL may take over the roasting of the "bird", a task he does with finesse.

I protest the quantity of side dishes which sometimes appear at these feasts and the corresponding excess of food consumption.  I like to keep it simple. The theme, after all, is meant to be thankfulness; gratitude for ample harvest--not quite as meaningful perhaps in these days of super market shopping as when the winter's food was the result of a handed down knowledge of seeds and seasons, planting and weeding, harvesting and putting by, all undertaken with hope and prayers for timely sunshine and rain.

On Friday we will head over South Pass to celebrate the holiday with our son and his partner.  Heidi is a marvelous gourmet cook and a meal which she creates is always memorable.  I will doubtless be making another pie or two in her kitchen.
When I asked what I might bring [shopping is even more limited in Pinedale than here] she immediately requested a new teakettle as hers has sprung a leak. 
I went first to the elegant kitchen shop in town.  Two kettles on offer--handsome, but VERY pricey. I tried the appliance store next and discovered a bewildering array of mid-priced kettles in their cookware department.  I dithered, rejecting the cheapest ones, attracted by a sleekly modern "stainless" model, but finally won over by the  homespun red-speckled enamel one above. It should add a cheerful note of color during the long winter.

As we grow older holidays bring with them an increase of nostalgia, memories of times past, family no longer with us.  Writing this tonight, in a house that smells of ginger and cinnamon and pumpkin, many miles from my home in New England, I can conjure up years of Thankgiving services, my Mother at the pipe organ in the choir loft, my Dad hovering over the recording equipment at the front of the church creating the master tape from which he would make copies for shut-ins. All the stops out on the organ for the final verse of the closing hymn, all voices raised in joyful song.

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God's own field,
Fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown
Unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store
In His garner evermore.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cat Wiles, For Cat Lovers Only

My daughter sent me the above cartoon some years ago.  It really captures the manipulative personality of the feline race.  We know that they are purring blandishments...and I think they know that we know.

Mrs. Beasley washes a paw.

A "Blusterous" Day

Standing at the dining room window after lunch, I watched dry leaves scamper before the wind, heard its' fretful voice wuthering through the bare branches of the cottonwoods. A raven labored into view, wheeled and hung, wings flapping, as it attempted to bear south west into the gale. I watched it turn eastward making a wide circle before it tried again to face the wind. Giving up, it wobbled to a high branch over the farther-most loop of irrigation ditch.  As I stood there, a second raven lurched into the airspace, taking the exact route its mate had just abandoned. 
Intrigued, I decided I needed to experience this wind first hand.  I detest being cold and was already wearing flannel-lined jeans and two pullovers. I layered on a disreputable paint-stained vest [first owned by my son when he was sixteen] a fleece jacket and finished off the ensemble with another over-sized vest of waddy flannel. Lace up winter boots, camera in hand and I was out. 
Daughter's beloved and incorrigable cat, T-Baby, was loitering around the old Dodge truck parked across the track near the cat tails. He greeted me casually, rolled about my feet, swatted at the camera strap and at my wind-frazzled hair when I bent to take his picture.  When I finally succeeded in capturing his hairy face, the camera blinked and flashed a "replace low batteries" signal. 
None of the batteries in the kitchen drawer responded with any vestige of life, so I plugged them into the charger and started out again with the older camera.

I crashed about in the cat tails--snakeless, I can assume, after weeks of cold weather. Many of the stalks are broken, fluff blowing on the wind, fronds that were green a short time ago, trail, limp and browned.

Here, early in the summer, cat tails and grass stood so high that the doe hid her fawn there. Walking then through the thick green growth, I literally tripped over the tiny dappled creature. I wonder where they are now.

Cattail, up close and fluffy.

Pale dry grass flattens in the wind--which was biting meanly through all my layers of clothing.

These delicate nests still swing in the thin drooping branches of the cottonwood. As I watched them sway in the wind I was reminded of J.'s oft repeated comment that it isn't exactly "bright" to stand under these trees in a gale!

Standing on the far ditch bank looking toward South Pass.

Facing eastward up an incline from the ditch.

Leaves caught in a tangle of greasewood.

Pebbles the Horse trumpeted at me as I walked around the garage.  I walked down to the pasture fence, told her she was a greedy old thing, and put a pad of hay in her feed bin. Turning back, I saw this bird's feather caught in the dead grass.

One of the weathered planks which crosses the now dry irrigation ditch.

I wonder how long this hoop of wire has hung here.

The pond from below the berm.

Chester waits on the entry windowsill---the cats are very conscientious "greeters."  They let me know it was time for their "tea" when I came in.  It was a bit early, but its the weekend--and I was ready for tea as well.

I fed the cats and put the kettle on for my own tea. While it boiled, I stepped onto the front porch. Oddly, it wasn't as dark as it looks in this photo.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Indoors and Out

Teasel sleeps on the bed after supervising our morning activities. Teasel greatly enjoys food and I have been calling her "Teasel the Tank."

Charlie, the dad cat, looks appealingly innocent.  Moments earlier his son Chester was under the rug atop the hassock with Charlie pummeling him, while Teasel jabbed a wiley paw under the rug for good measure.  Charlie has led the tribe this evening in wild surges through the rooms, crashing headlong into his cardboard box under the picture window, banging his head on the same window in an ill-judged leap for the sill. The sobering moment came with a crash in here.  I was taking cookies from the oven, so it was a bit later that I came in to find my ironing board upended, iron on its side with water puddling out, fabric strips in a muddle on the floor.

Charlie and Maisie's daughter, Jemima, is such a sweetie. She favors the top of this bookcase.  A leap into my old wing chair and a bounce up to the top shelf, and she can keep tabs on whatever I am doing.

Pebbles the Horse is recovering from a frightening bout of laminitis brought on by injudicious consumption of grass which had been frosted. This was a danger to her health that we had to learn the hard way.  She has been a month in this "starvation pasture" and none too pleased about it. She is being fed very carefully with a non-sweetened grain mixture created especially for horses who are subject to founder.  She has a water tub, and hay. She is bored with her confinement to such a small area, although pleased this week that J. has been working on the side entry roof and she can watch him.  If she creates a big enough fuss, chances are he will fetch her a carrot. It is a relief to see that she is once again stepping smartly.

Silvery bare branches against a clear blue sky. I was surely intending to include the bird in this shot--but zooming in has not identified which bird it is.

I am always intrigued by the patterns of branches against the sky. I tend to gaze up into the heavens, fiddling with the camera's zoom feature until I am dizzy and losing my balance on uneven ground.

In spite of living for a decade in Wyoming, my identification of native trees isn't good. These may be either young cottonwoods or aspens.  At any rate, you can see how the wind has canted them.

Cottonwood leaves, brown but still glossy, lie scattered on the dry rough ground and catch in clumps of dried weed.

If I were not lazy this evening--and if I was sure I could locate my book on wild plants, I would label this photo!  Maybe sorrel? 

J. has been working on the side entry roof this week. I expect that come spring we will be dealing with starlings who would like to nest in this newly sheltered spot.  They are such messy pests.

The kitchen window with its plant-laden sill faces the new entry roof.  This is the eastern exposure of the house.

A side view of guest/rental cabin, house and attached garage, taken from across the pond.  The "Sky Trak" which J. used to put the cross beam in place, and SIL's plumbing van add to the view.

The pond with a crinkled coating of ice, reflects the blue sky and the shadows of the over-hanging cottonwoods. Fallen leaves and twigs are caught in the cold slush.

This post has been a bit of an adventure---my first attempt at using the newer format.  I can see some advantages, such as the better photo uploads, but a few things are boggling my very untechnical brain. Perhaps I'll eventually be able to provide a "link" without pasting in a url.  There is always hope.