Saturday, September 19, 2015

Raisin [1998-2015] Gone Away

On the last morning of Raisin's life, I watched in surprise as she made her way up the lane from below where the gravel bends in a Y to loop around the house.
During the summer months I have often seen her strolling around the perimeter of the short tufty grass of the lawn, taking the side hill with the stiff-hipped gait of an old lady cat.
That she would be venturing farther in the grey mist of early morning left me wondering how often --and how far--she may have rambled.

Most of my photos of Raisin were taken with an older camera, with conspicuous 'red-eye' results.

Most mornings this summer have found Raisin sitting on the doorstep with whatever assortment of cats had chosen to spend the steamy night outside.
If she wasn't there, I walked around to the end of the porch--half expecting, half dreading--that I might find her curled, lifeless, on her soft blanket or in the hooded basket she claimed for her own.
At the sound of my footsteps her head would pop up and she would clamber down to follow me back to the door--complaining loudly. 
Stalking into the kitchen, still querulously vocal, she visited the kibble feeder, made a tour of the downstairs rooms, settled on the rug we kept folded for her at the end of the kitchen island.
She was alert to Jim's eventual progress down the stairs, greeting him with a loud litany of neglect, imminent starvation, demands for his attention.
Raisin was Jim's cat--always--and he willingly  gave her the attention she requested, spoiled her, truth be known.
Her always voracious, but finicky, appetite has been catered to with dishes of cream, tidbits of steak or hamburger, newly opened tins of tuna, even strained chicken baby food if she seemed to be feeling poorly. Jim has dished out bedtime snacks, carried his old cat out to tuck her up tenderly in her basket at 10 each evening.

The nightly banishment to the covered porch  was the only feasible remedy for a bad situation.
For the past two years Raisin steadfastly refused to use a litter box.
This behavior began while we were still in the yellow house.
She was sly about making her 'deposits' just outside one of the several boxes, or scrunching herself under a shelf or choosing the damp enclosed area where the washing machine drained; soon the 'puddles' began to appear. 
I cleaned, mopped, bleached, disinfected.
And, as time went on, I resented this unpleasant chore.

When we moved last fall to the stone house, I tried various measures to keep her tidy.  We put down newspapers, puddle pads, moved clean litter boxes to accommodate her choice of the various corners in the semi-finished basement.
Always she messed a few inches away from whatever sanitary device I provided.
The clean-up of course continued several times daily.
By now I was 'over it.'
Rarely, Jim cleaned up, usually when I lost patience.
Although he continued to baby his cat, pampering her with dainty morsels of food, holding her in his lap while he watched TV, he wasn't going to take responsibility for cleaning up--and the catch-22 was that he knew I would continue to do it, in spite of protests.

Raisin with her litter brother, Oscar.

By spring, at the farmhouse, it was clear that Raisin's weeks must be numbered.
Her eyes were clouded, it seemed that her hearing was not as sharp.
Although she had the bony spine of an old cat, her tummy was plump with Jim's special feeding.
The messing was out of hand.
While clean up of the basement floor was unpleasantly annoying, cleaning puddles and piles from the wood flooring of the dining alcove was intolerable.

I felt that the time had come to have Raisin put down.
I argued that her quality of life had diminished--and that Jim was being unfair in his expectations that I would continue to clean up after his cat!
I knew that he couldn't bear to put her in the carrier and take her to the vet.
She would have roared all the way there, been pathetic.

I offered to take her on that last grim journey, but Jim refused.
"She's not ready. She gets around. She enjoys her food."
It was Jim who was not ready, not ready to let her go.

We reached a compromise of sorts.
Raisin has always liked to be outside during the summer, picking her dainty way through the grass, coming back to sun herself in a chair on the porch.
During the day we have played doorkeeper for her.
Her plaintive roars announced her desire to come in.
She might settle for an hour or two in a favored spot, then bellow at the door to go back out.
I learned to watch her carefully--if she headed toward the dining area, it was time to put her outside to 'do her duty.'  Outside, she favored leaving malodorous piles in the gravel of the drive just off the front porch--piles which needed to be 'scooped' twice daily lest someone unwittingly step in the mess.
Her voice, always Siamese-loud, had become strident, a 'lost soul' wailing of 
needs we couldn't meet.
Admonished, she would come to herself, as though remembering where she was, noticing that we were near.

Jim made a ritual of putting her out at night.
A bowl of choice tidbits, a dish of milk, went out with her each evening.
Sometimes she roared before settling with her food and blanket.

She roared that last evening.
She wasn't on the doorstep when I opened the door at 6:30 Wednesday morning, September 2nd.
As usual, I went around the porch expecting that she was still asleep on the wicker love seat.
Raisin wasn't there.
She wasn't in her basket.
This was so unusual that I put on my boots and walked the perimeter of the dew-wet lawn.

Jim came out as I finished the circuit, sensed the situation immediately.
We asked each other, had she been more feeble the day before?
She had been noisier for several days we decided,
"I shouldn't have put her out last night," Jim sadly stated.
"It was no different than other nights," I replied, hoping to comfort him.
Still, he wondered if his cat had 'gone off to die.'

We walked up and down the lane, ventured into the pasture, went into the woods, along the brook.
Not to put too fine a point on it, we both knew that in hot weather it wouldn't be difficult to locate an animal who had died nearby.
As the morning wore on we knew that she was truly gone.

With no small body to bury near the garden, still we have what we believe is a likely 
cause of Raisin's death.
We have heard owls hooting from the surrounding wooded ridges; both screech owls and the larger great-horned owls enjoy our quiet landscape.
Jim feels that an owl swooped into the porch and snatched Raisin from her blanket.
I believe it to be more likely that she left the porch sometime in the wee hours, whether to pee/poop in the driveway, or to stroll down the lane--perhaps farther than we knew she was accustomed to walking.
Her small pale-furred form would have been an easy target for an owl with night vision.  An owl in flight is nearly noiseless, a swift-gliding presence who swoops down and is gone as silently.
We have talked with our friend, Jay, who has many years experience with wildlife, both in captivity and in their natural setting.
Jim was in the field working when Jay stopped this week to share a dozen fresh eggs from his wife, Paula's, hens.
"How quickly would Raisin have died if an owl took her?"
My question was blunt.
Jay was as direct.
An owl, he told me quietly, does not torment its prey. An owl's victim does not experience a lingering death. If Raisin's death indeed was the work of an owl, her life would have been taken within seconds of the owl's stealthy swoop.

From 'the owl page:' 

When a target is located, the Owl will fly towards it, keeping its head in line with it until the last moment. This is when the Owl pulls its head back, and thrusts its feet forward with the talons spread wide - two pointing backwards and two forwards.
The force of the impact is usually enough to stun the prey, which is then dispatched with a snap of the beak.

Raisin was the 'runt' of a large litter born to a Siamese cat who appeared in our niece's tack barn in Wyoming.  We stopped by often to bring the nursing mother canned cat food to supplement her kibble.  As the eyes of the kittens opened, we took special note of the tiny one scrambling her way through the tangle of small furry bodies intent on nourishment.
She was about 7 weeks old when we decided we should adopt her. 
We already had two kittens from the Siamese mother, born three months earlier.
One of these was my darling Eggnog, Raisin's sister--or half-sister--we couldn't be certain.

Raisin was noisy, smelly, always hungry.
Several times I discovered her in the interior of the fridge which I had opened to remove food.
Life-long she had a tendency to bolt her food--and bring it directly back up again--this feat accomplished to the sound of loud agonized wails and retchings.

Raisin adopted Jim immediately as her preferred human.
Before she was big enough to leap onto the bed she climbed the quilt, paw over tiny paw, to sleep at the edge of his pillow.
When she woke in the morning--early--she felt he should also wake, talk to her and escort her to the kitchen to be fed something more interesting than the ever present kibble.
She patted his face with a pleasant but imperative 'Meow.'
Jim pulled the quilt over his ears.
Raisin's voice went up a notch, the exploring paw poked beneath the quilt with a less gentle tap.

Raisin was easily the cleverest cat to make her home with us.
She seemed to understand a great many words.
For 6 years we lived in the first Wyoming house down a short lane from a road where diesel pickups and farm trucks lumbered by at all hours.
Jim went off to the job site each morning driving his own truck.
Raisin knew what time he should return in the evening.
At the proper hour she took up a vigil at the foot of the stairs.
Watching her, I realized that she heard--and identified--the sound of Jim's truck before I did.
She moved to the glass-paneled door in time to see him roll into the yard.
She followed him into the bathroom and back out to the supper table, recounting the trials and triumphs of her day, employing an interestingly varied feline vocabulary.

By the time he settled in his easy chair to watch TV she had fetched her 'toys'--a piece of cellophane-wrapped candy which he was meant to toss for her to fetch back, a long length of slender padded belting known as 'Raisin's string' for him to twitch back and forth while she leaped to capture and subdue it.
When Jim inquired, "Raisin, where is your string?" she would whisk off and return with the cord in tow.  She unraveled toilet paper, able to carry an entire roll in her mouth while emitting muffled roars of  'look at me!'
Raisin's litter brother came to live with us when our niece discovered that her husband and young son were allergic to cat hair.
Oscar, who became my cat, was twice as big as his sister, quieter in voice, utterly mischievous in nature.  Raisin loved to sail across a room, hitting her brother in a flying tackle that caused his head to smack soundly on the floor. She tormented him, teased him, lured him into games of chase which took them sliding around corners, over furniture, until they subsided, exhausted in a slumbering heap.

Oscar, my beautiful boy, developed an inoperable tumor in his 7th year.
As his energy ebbed in the last too short weeks of his life, Raisin tried to entice him to play.
When she understood that he could no longer gallop through the house she sought him out where he lay on the floor in a pool of sunlight, stayed close by him at night.
His death diminished her although she was to outlive him by nearly a decade.

Raisin atop the kitchen ledge is our last Wyoming house.

This is one of the better photos of Raisin's face--by then I had a decent camera.

We have not been able to speak much of Raisin since her disappearance nearly 3 weeks ago.
I would have had it differently--the trip to the vet, the swift needle, the little body to bring home and bury--with tears.
We knew that she couldn't face the winter nights outside.
I didn't have the heart to continue the endless cleaning of messes.
I was frustrated by the unhappy sound of her strident voice, frustrated by what seemed to me Jim's unreasonableness in refusing to let her go.

She has gone away, snatched and her life ended in one rushing swoop of wings.
Jim is wrenched by her loss, I less so--torn between relief and remorse.
As time eases the stress of her last years, I will remember again her catly sense of humor, her great canniness, her domineering personality.
Then I shall be able to miss her.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Misty Mornings

The bedraggled flower strip near the power pole. 

Monday, Labor Day, was hot--summer hot and still humid.
Jim took a notion to drive to the Mennonite produce auction to see if there was anything interesting on offer.
I informed him that I was not in the market for any produce that would require canning or freezing.
As it happened, perhaps because of the holiday, there were fewer vendors and fewer buyers than usual--nothing that appealed.
I crossed the road to the mercantile to shop for replacement kitchen items, then we pottered along to the discount food store and the lively produce market.
I was pleased to learn that the produce market--which also stocks dairy goods and a few frozen meats--is now open year 'round.
It is a shorter driving distance than any of the area supermarkets.
Since we keep many staples on hand, it is fresh produce, milk and eggs which need to be replenished at least once per week.

Walking down the lane in early morning mist, the lower house and barn looming.

I had a dental appointment on Tuesday which cut into the middle of the day, and several errands to do while in town.
I returned late in the afternoon to find that Jim was applying 'texture' to the kitchen ceiling prior to painting.  
I thought I would finish the living room curtains--a project started in early June--however since I must do my sewing at the table in the kitchen alcove, this wasn't practical with painting stretching well into Thursday.
I admitted [to myself] that I was feeling clobbered with tiredness--a sense of wading through deep water, or wallowing through snow drifts.
A week in which I had hoped to accomplish a fair amount was frittered away with the desultory tasks of meal preparation, laundry, reading a book;  in the evenings Jim and I watched the 25th anniversary presentation of Ken Burns' 'The Civil War.'
We have sat, enthralled by this series, numerous times since it debuted in 1990.
New details emerge with each viewing.
The sense of sadness, of terrible waste and loss, burdens me afresh each time I see the now-familiar faces in the speckled and creased old photographs.
Each time I am intrigued by the scraps of history and anecdote recited by 
historian/writer Shelby Foote.

A spider's web shimmers amid rusty leaves.

Goldenrod--its glory undimmed by the fog.

Two varieties of wild morning glory--'small red' and the more common blue.
Both are tangled in the area where I hoped to start a 'wild garden'--you might say the wild aspect of it has happened in spite of [because of?] neglect.

Charlie and Willis seldom fail to accompany me down the lane and back.
Their fur was damp with mist, their colors muted. 

Willis honing his claws.

A spatter of leaves from the tulip poplar--one of the earliest trees to shed its leaves.

Boneset, Queen Anne's lace--long past its prime--a billow of Joe Pye weed in the background. 

This flower is entwined with the morning glory. 
I have wondered at its larger size and exotic markings.
A wildflower website discovered tonight has me thinking this may be 'ipomoea pandurata'--with common names of bigroot morning glory or wild sweet potato.

Trudging back up the lane--our house almost hidden in mist.

A weathered fence post wound about in wild honeysuckle.

Halfway up the lane.

I have some bi-colored cosmos this year--perhaps a hybrid arising from last years' seed?
I will be watching for the seed heads to dry.

One visible accomplishment for the week.

With still no garden spot prepared to plant out my seedlings, it was vital to move many of them up to larger pots. I lost several small lavenders which languished for too long, roots crowded and dry.
I removed spent blossoms from the begonias, tidied the vintage geraniums, wrenched a straggling fern from its pot and moved it to larger quarters.
Charlie and Willis got in my way, the hummingbirds whirred overhead.
As I lined up pots along the porch edge, rain began to fall.
Today [Saturday] another misty morning, mid day clear and cool.
This evening rain has pelted down, the temperature has fallen. 
Regardless of the calendar, autumn has arrived.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Temporary Boarders

One evening last week our renter at the lower farmhouse drove up the lane to inform Jim that a number of horses were grazing in the yard.
Jim went down with him and quickly realized that the horses were part of a group who have made a brief visit several times during the summer.

The horses belong to a compassionate couple living a mile away on the main road who 'take in' homeless horses and  give-away horses.  Horse rescuers.
This group found a weak spot in the fence and made their way cross-lots to our place.

We went down to visit the couple and assure them the horses were safe--Jim had herded them into the pasture and closed the gate.

The couple are short on pasturage and were pleased to take up Jim's offer of free grazing for the seven equines.
[Jim is tired of mowing the pasture!]

 We enjoy seeing them in the pasture.

The pasture wraps around the barn and three-sided shed, and has a pond at one end.

Two of the mares in the group have young foals.

Sometimes when I walk down the lane the horses notice and now that they are feeling settled, come to the fence to be patted.

The light-colored horse, a mare, is the 'old lady' of the group.
Behind her, tail in the air, is a gelding [called a 'gilding' by his southern-spoken owner.]

There is something very precious about foals.
There is about a months difference in the ages of these two, the colt on the left being the older.
The little filly, "Flicka," has an appealingly delicate face and slender, dainty legs.
All unknowing, they walk over the now grass-covered burying place of Pebbles-the-Horse.
We don't know how long they will be with us; I shall enjoy their presence while they are here.