Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Boy-Cats

Bobby McGee practices airs above the ground after his breakfast.

My boy cats insist on nocturnal prowling contrary to my wish to keep them safe indoors from things which go bump, snarl, howl, in the dark of night on the farm.
If they aren't already safely in the house, lounging on the bed or sprawled in a furry heap on the sofa I round them up when I call it bedtime, usually sometime between 11 and midnight.
By 3 or 4 A.M 'someone' starts an agitation to be let OUT.
Charlie is often the first to instigate the exodus.
After several years in both Wyoming and Kentucky as an indoor 'rescue cat' Charlie went out one day two years ago, refused to be rounded up, and spent a weekend [as best we can tell] up a tree at the edge of the back field before I located him and Jim climbed a ladder to bring him down.
After a few days inside to settle his nerves Charlie declared that he was ready for indoor/outdoor privileges.
He has become disturbingly bold over the past year, regularly crossing the road to prowl along the bank of Big Creek, bustling off on endless sorties in the tall grass of the meadows, returning with his long fur damp and tangled with burrs. If we see him headed down the drive toward the road, one of us opens the front door and bellows, "Charlie!"
He obediently turns around and comes to the house--docile until the next time he fancies a walk-about.

Charlie is not particularly bright.  He has a silly high-pitched but insistent voice and when he uses it to announce that he must go out, there is no ignoring him.
J. or I huff out of bed and usher Charlie to the sliding door, with a 'good riddance' attitude.
If Charlie's demand hasn't prompted a mass feline exodus, the next to make his wants known is 
usually Nellie.
Nellie, an amiable sort, has different tactics.
He doesn't meow, instead he enters the bedroom, walks to the north window and rising on his hind legs uses his fat front paws to give the interior shutters a good shake.
If we manage to sleep through this, Nellie's next ploy is a leap to one of the dressers or a bedside stand and begin pushing small objects along until they clatter onto the floor.

Bobby is more inclined to stomp heavily about on sleeping humans until they wake--at which point he plummets to the floor and indicates that he would like to be allowed out.

Edward, who is much lazier than his brothers, tends merely to go along for a reconnoiter of the dark yard if he is in the mood.
Willis, who is meant to be a barn cat, has house privileges, but hasn't always proven worthy of 
nights indoors.
He tends to hide downstairs and appear at breakfast time looking rumpled and the picture of innocence.

Willis watches Bobby intently but doesn't venture up the tree.

Last night 'the boys' all went out early--about midnight.
I was in the process of settling myself beneath the quilts when Charlie started his familiar ruckus.
I swung out of bed and padded barefoot along the hall--only to find that Charlie had vanished.
The three brothers, Nellie, Bobby and Edward, appeared from somewhere and fell over themselves lining up at the sliding door.
Out they went with never a hesitation on feeling the cold air.
As I stuck my chilled toes into the covers Charlie piped up again.
He skittered playfully before me as I followed him down the hall, ducked behind a chair.
"We are not playing this game!" I hissed at him crossly.
He let out a squeak as I caught a handful of his long fur and reeled him into my arms, hustled him out the back door.
In bed for the third time I tried not to think of contentious opossums with their gnashing teeth or wandering coyotes and swooping owls.

Bobby, paws resting lightly on a slender branch, acknowledges those of us on the ground before climbing way out on a higher limb.

Edward's was the first face I saw at the side door this morning. His pink nose was pressed anxiously against the glass.  He gobbled his dollop of tinned food, polished his whiskers and headed for bed.

Bobby after arriving late for breakfast and showing off his prowess as a climber of trees, flung himself into exhausted relaxation.

Nellie curled in a tight sleepy furball.

Willis, who had been derelict in his assigned duties as farm watch-cat, took a nap on his favorite shabby comforter.

Charlie sleeps away the sunny noon.

There are times when I wish we could herd all the cats downstairs at night--there is the furnished side of the basement with soft chairs, a daybed, a rug, and on the business side of the staircase is the line-up of litter boxes, a kibble feeder, a water bowl.  
But except for the bitter nights when we keep the wood fire going in the basement, it is cold and unwelcoming during the winter months.
The frail old lady cats need the warmth of the living room.
Those cats who are well-behaved would be astonished to be denied their usual place at the foot of the bed.
Could we really adjust to sleep without the patter of furry paws?  Would we remain braced for the dreadful sound of an indigestible mouse about to be hawked up in the hallway?
Most importantly, wouldn't night be a lonely time without the contented purr of a nearby cat or the warm furry weight on tired feet?
I expect there will be no significant changes to the nightly routine.
The boy cats will continue to want 'out' at odd hours and we, their devoted humans, will continue to grumblingly oblige them.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Scattery Week

The weather improved last week.
I was determined to be outdoors as much as possible in spite of having caught a heavy cold.
I shall remember 2014 as the winter of freezing temperatures and bouts of coughing.
Son-in-law M, took the above photo of the sand hill cranes.
He called me outside last Sunday afternoon to see them pass overhead.
I hadn't put on a jacket and was shivering while trying to focus the camera, so I handed it to him and he was able to get two nice shots of the third group of cranes.
When we traveled here in 2010 to find a home in Kentucky, we drove for miles along the North Platte River in Nebraska.  The marshy ground along the river banks provides winter feeding for thousands of cranes and Canadian geese.
For hours the dark shapes of the birds dominated the sodden winter brown of the plains. Small groups of them glided overhead, landing to feed.
The cronking cry of the cranes marks their departure in early winter and heralds their flights north and east for the summer nesting season.
Edited to add after reading comment from denimflyz: I thought of the cranes as spending the winter in Nebraska, which, come to think of it, wouldn't make much sense in terms of winter temperatures. Apparently we saw them in their thousands 'resting' along the North Platte as part of spring migration from points farther south. In Wyoming they could be spotted during the short summer season with their leggy chicks in tow.
Here is some beautiful footage shot along the North Platte with info on the cranes and the sound of their peculiar cries. 

The daffodils which in other years have poked up their heads in January and February, often with resulting frost damage, have huddled safely in the ground.
They have emerged cautiously and the buds are beginning to show a faint yellow glow.

Edward wonders why I am on my knees looking at these green spears.

Pebbles the Horse managed one of her periodic escapes on Thursday morning.
The wind was blowing and Pebs thundered up and down the pasture, head high and tail streaming.
I got a hand in her scanty mane at one point when she paused near the barn.
J. bellowed at me to hang onto her neck until he could find a lead rope.
I had no intention of being tossed aside by her plunging about and I let go, where-upon she galloped down the front pasture and across the road to the creek.

J. was by now feeling rather put out.
He leaped on the 4-wheeler and took chase.

After a bit of a circus Pebbles was cornered by the barn and submitted to being lead behind her electric fence, blowing and snorting.

Tearing about the fields like a youngster develops a thirst.

Meanwhile Nellie, having been outside early to hunt and prowl, had collapsed in dramatic fashion on the bed.
The boy cats come inside with muddy paws and their furry underneaths damp and bedraggled.
I keep a charity shop comforter on the bed to protect my quilts.

Nellie is blissfully asleep.

A rather be-fogged gaze as Nellie has finally become aware that I am taking ever closer views.

I spent an hour or more on Wednesday loping the nandina down to size, cutting away shriveled berries and frost blighted branches.
With Pebbles secured and mundane chores finished on Thursday I decided to do a preliminary raking around the herb garden.  That done [and another session of mourning over plants which appear too blackened to recover] I began raking up the seed balls from the sweet gum tree.
The tree set an amazing amount of seeds which have been pelting down since late autumn, littering the upper drive, bouncing into the herb garden, some even rolling down the incline into the upper perennial strip.
I assembled two large piles of dry leaves and seed balls before the wind became so gusty that raking was futile. Banks of grey cloud roiled and raced across the sky.
My nose and eyes were streaming, so I put the rake away and came inside to mop up my face and put on the kettle for a mug of tea.
The phone began to ring just as J. followed me in.
It was the emergency warning system with a recorded message alerting us to high winds and 
possible heavy rain throughout the rest of the day and into the evening.
Having mentioned the warning system I should explain that with the threat of extreme weather or a hazardous situation a message is recorded at the County Office of Emergency Management and is then activated to 'ring in' on all the phones within our county. When our phone is picked up we hear the recorded message.
On this particular day the weather brought us no emergency and much of the projected storm front by-passed us.  A thunderstorm banged about shortly after midnight and I lay awake listening to the gusty wind and the pounding of rain on the roof.

Rain, warmer temperatures and several days of sunshine have stirred the earth into a cautious awakening.
Bobby-cat helped me to find a clump of emerging catnip to which he gave fervent attention.
J.'s elderly cat, Raisin, announced that she wished to toddle out to the front porch and sit in a cushioned chair facing the sun.
I, too, took advantage of afternoon sunshine, dragging a chair into the carport on Saturday afternoon.
It needed a fleece blanket draped around me to be comfortable.
I watched J. walking along the back field with a train of cats for company.
I read a few pages in my book, then sat quietly to marvel at the tracery of tree branches, still bare twigged, against the blue of the sky.
Spring is not quite settled in.  There are frost warnings for two nights mid-week.
Springtime will bring a goodly amount of work this year--several  of the garden areas will need to be considered and renovated. As such things happen, it will likely all 'want done' at once.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rude Awakening



A rude awakening as the emergency phone rang about 2 a.m. As usual we fell over one another and Jim made it first to the phone. The recorded message informed us that a gas pipeline had exploded at the other end of the county, about 20 miles away.  Jim pulled up our local online news source, Columbia Magazine, and got the first reports. Since there was no danger to our immediate area we trekked back to bed.  It is always hard to drift back into sleep after such a jolt.  I had sat by the fire reading until midnight, so it seemed I had only closed my eyes before the phone shrilled.
We woke again to a loud droning sound from outside the house.  The sun was rising over the creek. We again turned to CM for information.  The roar was the sound of natural gas being released by pipeline workers from the pipe which fed into the damaged main.
J. needed to pick up tractor parts from a man who has a 'tractor graveyard' in the next county.
He invited me to go along.
I considered that I wasn't feeling in a lively mood, not wanting to tackle a project of sewing or housework.
The sunshine was brilliant in a blue sky, the temperature a few degrees higher than usual.
I brought along a book as I know these excursions usually involve a waiting time.
J. parked the van so that the sun shone in on me. I nodded sleepily over my book, enjoying the warmth, much as my cats do when they seek out a sunny spot by the window.

The women's group of our church had planned a Mother/Daughter supper for this evening.
G. wanted to attend and it worked out for her to drive.
There was a flush of sunset color staining the western sky when we set off and a shimmery nearly full moon that seemed almost close enough to touch.
Two groups of deer were bounding across a neighbor's meadow.
G. stopped the truck and let down the window.
The deer were moving swiftly and had reached the fence before I could do a quick zoom focus.

Reaching over G. I was able to frame both the retreating deer and the white moon.

In the field across from G.'s house the feral cat we speak of as our Nellie's twin, paced warily through the bleached grass.
I had not seen him since the freezing weather and was pleased to note that his fur looks thick and clean.
His life is a hard lot compared to the three brothers [as we assume] who landed here in August of 2012.
Usually the feral cats of the neighborhood are seen for a few months at most --their lives swiftly 
 meet a sad end.
My thoughts tonight are with the two families who lost their homes, possessions, and even their vehicles in the terrible blast in the early hours of the morning.  A third home suffered severe damage as great chunks of rock rained down  upon it.  
How quickly safety and security can be breached.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

'Can Spring Be Far Behind?'

We have experienced a day and a half of sunshine.
Today there have been intervals when a pale and tentative sun has been visible behind a curtain of sheer grey clouds. The air is cold and still, but the thermometer is registering above the freezing mark for the first time in days.  I dragged the rosemary plants back into the house from the front porch last evening, noting with sorrow that many of the branches have browned tips.  I shouldn't have moved them outside again when the deep freeze was [supposedly] ended.
I sat by the fire this morning with a favorite nursery catalog open, pen in hand to mark a few plants and seeds that I would like to order.
Yesterday I bought a packet of rosemary seeds and one of Munstead lavender.  It was a gesture of defiance flung in the teeth of a winter which has seemingly taken a heavy toll of my beloved gardens.

The cats have been alternately lethargic and fractious. Charlie, Nellie and Bobby find warm places to curl up during the day--Charlie has a particular liking for my sewing table when I build a fire and work downstairs.
Come late evening and the three carry on until they are allowed outside in the dark and cold.
Willis has pushed the limits of his privileges as a sometimes house cat, going in and out on demand.
He is not completely trust-worthy in the house at night and tends to make himself scarce if he wishes to spend the night on the daybed downstairs.
On cold nights when I keep the boy-cats inside, they rattle and crash, stalk into the bedroom and make demands in plaintive tones which can't be ignored.
There is no reasoning with cats.

Keeping house these weeks is much about carrying in wood, sweeping up bits of bark and sawdust, carrying out ashes.
Neighbors have posted on Face Book regarding high electric bills from central heating.
We don't rely on our electric heat pump, although as Jim points out, heating with wood is not 'free.'
It provides us with areas in the little house that are cozy, while those rooms more distant from the fire [my 'office' space included] are not welcoming.

In the chill of Tuesday afternoon I noted the activity of three bluebirds.
One sat huddled on the lamp post for some time.

I went quietly out and stood on the front porch steps zooming the camera toward the birds who perched in the goat willow tree.

Each springtime the bluebirds make a great fuss of inspecting the several birdhouses. The one in the willow tree is usually claimed by a family of tree swallows, while the bluebirds prefer the two in the back yard. 
The nesting birds are in constant peril from the resident cats, although J. contrives barricades of fencing wire around the tree trunks. 

I finished a quilt top late last evening.
Keeping a fire downstairs makes the entire house warmer and allows me to sew with all my tools and fabrics ready to hand. 
I suspect I will continue to make Log Cabin quilts because whenever I declare I've made the last one I discover a variation that intrigues me.
This one is called Broken Star Log Cabin.
Although the blocks require the simplest of straight cutting and sewing, the number of 'log' strips involved makes the process fairly time-consuming. 
In this one I used strips of two fabrics which had appropriate colors but became annoyingly too prominent as I began to lay out and stitch the rows together. 
You can see one of the fabrics in this photo--the muted stripe.  I picked out the stitches and replaced the logs in several blocks where the stripe seemed to dominate. 
Quilt makers among my readers may notice that this setting requires blocks of all light or all dark fabrics to 
create the pattern. 

The sun is losing the competition with dark clouds as it moves towards the west this late afternoon.
I must bundle up and tend to a few outside chores, hoping that a foray into fresh cold air will drive away some of the hibernation funk that has me in thrall today.
I've passed the hours telling myself that I might  write letters, I could get on with another sewing project.
In short, I'm having trouble getting out of my own way--I may take my cue from the cats and burrow into my rocking chair by the fire until a hint of spring revives me.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Days of Dreary Weather

I've been reluctant to record the damages done by the freezing weather in early January, but it appears that some of the effects may be with us more or less permanently.
Magnolia trees, we've been assured, are at their northern-most range here in south-central Kentucky.
The towering tree in our front yard is one of the delights of summer with its waxy chalice-shaped buds that open to fragrant cups of fleeting loveliness.
I don't know how much frost a magnolia can take and survive.
I know--its 'only a tree'-but I'm concerned about it.
In only three years I have come to value its presence.

A close-up of frost-burned leaves on the magnolia.

Nandina is usually evergreen and the berries a brilliant red through the winter months.
The shrubs flanking the porch and carport, though bedraggled, can be pruned back early in spring and will quickly return to their former height.

In former years the daffodils near the carport have rushed the season, putting out frilled yellow petals that often suffered  the blight of a February chill.
As if warned of inhospitable weather their tentative green tips are still shrouded in a blanket of dry leaves.

My herb garden near the back door is a sad small space of grey and shriveled plants.
In previous winters the sage has merely ceased to grow, holding quietly to its leaves of pebbled dusty green or burgundy. Now the leaves are crisp, dulled to an unpromising grey.
Only bare brown stems like rusted wire are left of the wooly thyme which crept along the retaining wall.
The mat of culinary thyme which spills boisterously onto the concrete of the carport is brittle, nearly leafless.
Two of the older lavenders may have a chance at revival, but the smaller seed-grown plants, nurtured  summer long on the front porch and tucked into September's warm soil, have the appearance of plants that have been mortally chilled.
Likewise the winter savory, the lemon thyme, the foxglove tucked in the back corner against the house wall.
Walking along the upper perennial strip I wonder about the hardiness of the southernwood and the 
butterfly bush.
There are some weeks yet to wait til I can be sure what plants can be pruned hard to flourish again from viable roots, which ones have been done to death by the frigid temperatures of January.
Gardeners are a determined lot; even as we mourn our losses the mind jumps ahead to replanting.
Jim and I talk about the gardens, pondering how much we really need to plant and tend and 'put up.' How many strawberry plants should be ordered? Installed in my rocking chair by the fire, perusing glossy seed and nursery catalogs it is easy to discount the sweaty labors of July and August, the ache in my knees after hours of weeding.
Frost-bitten sage.

Looking south down the Big Creek Valley. 

Sunrise over the creek.

Edward pads across frozen ground amidst the clutter of sweet gum seed balls.

Only one morning in the past two weeks inspired me to step outside with my camera to 
record a ruddy sunrise.
Most days have plodded by in desultory fashion; we glance out the window to take note of snow flurries, a spatter of icy rain.  The cats asleep on the sofa prick their ears to the sound of wind as it sweeps 
across the porch., dry leaves rattling ahead of the gusts.
Jim carries in armloads of wood which shed bits of bark and crumbs of sawdust to be brushed up. I make futile swipes at the furry ash which settles repeatedly on the mantle and shelves near the fireplace.
Four years into retirement we acknowledge with a certain surprise that we have no schedule to meet, no need to start a vehicle on a cold morning.
We eat comfort food--homemade soups, bread fresh from the oven, open a jar of pears harvested from the old time-y Kieffer tree.
On the coldest days I keep a fire in the basement family room, take fabric from the cupboard, sit at my sewing machine piecing quilt blocks.
I've brought out hand sewing on the evenings when I'm not engrossed in a book.
My scissors, spools of thread, a lump of beeswax, are clustered on the small table at my elbow, subject to investigative proddings by the resident felines.
Jim scrolls through the offerings on Netflix, occasionally finding one that I will watch with him.
We store up the comments of long-time residents who nod wisely and assure us that this is how winters 'used to be' in south-central Kentucky.
We recall the long cold-bound winters of Vermont and Wyoming, when February was a mere halfway mark through the expected time of snow and ice.
We tell ourselves that we've been spoiled by three winters here when dandelions bloomed yellow-gold in green grass on New Years day.
Even as we draw the curtains against the gloom of a day when the light appears the same at high noon as it did at 7 a.m., we notice that the day hours have stretched almost imperceptibly since the December solstice.
The earth turns and the seasons unfold as they have ever done and ever will do.
We cherish the promise of an eventual springtime; we are heartened when the sun remembers to shine for even an hour or two.
There is truth in the words of a poem written in 1912 and usually sung at Christmas time to the English tune, Forest Green, but suitable for these grey days of waiting out winter.

All beautiful the march of days, as seasons come and go;
The Hand that shaped the rose hath wrought the crystal of the snow;
Hath sent the hoary frost of Heav'n, the flowing waters sealed,
And laid a silent loveliness on hill and wood and field.