Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Raccoon Saga

Late in winter when days began to lengthen and the sun grew warmer we realized that a pair of raccoons were becoming regular visitors, A tray of kibble is kept on the front porch for the barn cats, Willis and Sally. Often just after dark we heard the rattle of the tray as the raccoons enjoyed an evening snack.

In May it became obvious that Mamma Raccoon was nursing kits. 
We began putting out leftovers and scraps of food for her to eat.

Pappa enjoying stale crackers with milk.

Pappa Raccoon didn't hang around for long. He came in at dusk to eat from the bowls at the foot of the porch stairs, then bumbled off. 
Willis-the-cat, who oversees the dooryard and outbuildings, didn't challenge the coons, but kept a strict lookout, sometimes perched on the bench above the porch feeding dishes, sometimes lounging a few yards from the bowls on the gravel.  
Once Pappa Coon blundered a bit too close to Willis as he was leaving. Willis smacked him 'upside the head' and sent him on his way.

Willis and Sally have also tolerated the furtive forays of two feral cats, Herman and Hector, who seem to have no fixed address and a great fear of humans.

Herman, wary but hungry.
Hector is even more fearful of humans. I've not been able to approach him with a camera.

 On 23rd June just after dusk, we watched through the window as Mamma Raccoon climbed the porch steps and tucked into the cat kibble. 
We opened the door a crack and were surprised when three raccoon 'kits' popped out from under the steps;  in a perfectly choreographed move they lined up, tipped back on their small furry bottoms and clasped their tiny paws in front, uttering twittering bird-like squeaks.
It was easy to imagine that Mamma had brought them along for a first evening venture and likely told them, 'You stay under the porch while I eat; humans are unpredictable and they don't need to see you!'
Mamma bustled down the steps and quickly herded her young ones toward the wooded ravine.

The three babies grew rapidly and soon could make their way up the steps to eat kibble.
While they were small they could easily share the rectangular tray without fussing.
As they gained in size--and appetite--any semblance of mannerly eating was lost.
The kits shoved and squealed, snarled and chattered their teeth menacingly, pushing each other so vigorously that one would tumble down the steps or off the edge of the porch into the raised herb bed, scrambling back up to have another go at the food.
The food tray was sometimes over-turned in the ruckus, the water dish sloshed.

September days are giving way to earlier darkness, there is a chill in the air once the sun tips over the western slope.
The raccoons continue their evening visits but we aren't as often seeing the three kits and their mamma at one time. We suspect that one of the youngsters has emerged as dominant. He [?] is notably greedy, becoming something of a bully. 

Standing in the dish insures that a sibling can't reach the food. 

With every last bit of kibble consumed, this bully boy was inspired to show off.
He swung a bit clumsily on the horizontal railing, got a good grip and shimmied up to peer at us from the angle of the bracing.

His descent was lacking in grace, and he huddled for a moment getting his bearings before scuttling towards the sanctuary of the woods.

We didn't set out to feed raccoons. 
They appeared along with the feral cats and the itinerant opossums. 
We've listened to the well-meant warnings about befriending wildlife--the possibility of an 'attacking ' coon.
I think we are suitably wary.
My main concern is for the safety of Willis and Sally, the outdoor cats; at 13 years old neither is in their prime and will become more vulnerable to intruders.

Thus far the raccoons squabble amongst themselves, but ignore the resident cats.
The possums scuttle off at the least sound or movement of humans.
The two feral Tomcats dash in to grab a mouthful of whatever is on offer, then bolt away. We sometimes don't see them for several weeks.

 Two years ago it became necessary to live trap and rehome a large male raccoon who repeatedly overturned and uprooted doorstep planters. 
If the raccoon population becomes unmanageable we may bundle some of them off to a new life in the wilderness, well away from houses or farms.

Willis--still very much in charge!


Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Edward-Cat: His Life and Passing

Edward in May 2022 plodding along the grassy edge of the east wall garden.

Throughout the summer he enjoyed hiding in the daylilies, popping out to hurry inside when cat 'tea' was announced. 
We buried Edward late this afternoon in the space J. grubbed out earlier at the edge of the woods along the north ravine.  
I attempted this morning to prepare a bury hole myself, attacking the dry coarse soil with my garden fork and a shovel. The soil is shallow there and interlaced with the roots of  surrounding trees and shrubs. I quickly discovered that although the ground wasn't giving way with my efforts, my back was protesting mightily.
I appealed to J. as he was ready to launch his current project of sorting tools and oddments in the small barn.  He brought out a pronged tool [maybe intended for aerating a lawn]  twisting it into the ground and loosening the soil which he then scraped out with the big shovel, forming a tidy rectangle.

Edward's appointment with the vet was for 1:45 Central time; As we keep Eastern time I stayed busy with small tasks while clock watching.

J. meanwhile loaded his work truck with things he intended taking to the county landfill. He announced there was no need for two vehicles to go into town foiling my plan to take this final journey with Edward on my own. In retrospect I think J. might have wanted to be part of the farewell.
Throughout his adult years Edward weighed over 18 pounds, a portly creature, amiable and lackadaisical, food loving. At some point early in the summer we noted with surprise that Edward wasn't as plump as usual. In all other respects he was his normal self, but the weight loss continued, accelerating until by August he had become gaunt. 
His appetite held steady as did his consumption of water.
Remembering other cats over the years I suspected cancer or feline diabetes, some wasting disease  which could have no good ending.
There may be those who would argue that I should have taken Edward to the vet for testing, scans, possible meds or surgery.
We doctored Edward through three severe UTI's---the last one occurring two years ago. At that time he fought so strongly, biting and clawing at me, hiding under furniture, spitting out meds, that I felt we couldn't go into that routine again for any cause.
In examining him today our vet didn't suggest that any treatment might have prolonged his life.

Sunday brought the first indication that Edward was losing his enjoyment of food.
I hurried to buy little containers of 'gourmet' cat dinners. Offered these on Monday he walked away from his dish with only a sniff at the food, lay down in a patch of sunlight on the floor.
In the evening he ate a tablespoon of strained chicken, almost as though he did it to please me. It didn't stay down.
Edward lay in his usual spot at the head of the stairs this morning basking in the heat we had turned on until the sun could warm the big room.
He drifted downstairs, sipped a bit of water. I opened the door to the downstairs bathroom--a place which delights Edward but is usually off limits. Edward spent the last hours of his life moving between a soft old bathmat and the cool tile floor.  I lined the cat carrier with newspapers and a towel. He  offered no resistance when we gently put him in.

He rode to town in my lap, rubbing his face against my fingers which I inserted through the grilled opening. He kept his large eyes fastened on me, sometimes uttering a soft inquiring meow. 'It will be alright,' I told him. 'Soon you will be alright.' 

The vet's appointments were running late. I sent J. on to do his errand while Edward and I sat quietly in a corner of the vet's waiting room. I kept the carrier on my lap with Edward facing me, one hand reaching in to pat him while I balanced a book with the other. He was quiet, peaceful. 

The vet asked if I wanted to stay in the room while the needle was given. He weighed Edward--perhaps to calculate the dose of the injection [?]  Our portly boy had lost 9 of his 18 pounds during the course of the summer.
There was no struggle. I held my hand cupped under Edward's chin as the needle was slipped in and felt his thin tired body relax. I had a moment alone with him before the vet made a final check with his stethoscope and helped me to lift the still body into the worn pillowcase I had brought with me. 

We gave Edward a good life. We gave him a gentle passing.

Below are some of my favorite photos of Edward pulled from my photo archives.

Edward [on the right] and his brothers, Robert and Nellie, were dropped off at the edge of our first Kentucky  property on a late July evening in 2012. We reckoned they were between three  and four months old. 
Bone-thin and dirty, they were not feral. 
Grandson D. and I were in the dooryard, talking, playing with the barn cats when the three kittens came blundering through the long grass of the meadow that stretched downhill to the road.
They flung themselves at us with anxious 'mews' tumbling about our feet, climbing our pants legs, purring with delight at human contact. 
I was dismayed. 
We didn't need three kittens.
'Alright,' I announced, 'You can be barn kittens until we decide what to do with you.'
D. and I carried them to the barn, set out dishes of kibble, a bowl of water. 
When I opened our back door early next morning the three kittens were asleep in a pile on the doormat.
It appeared they had moved in.
We set about bathing them, naming them, and soon [inevitably] they had house privileges. 
They were taken to the vet for inoculations and timely neutering.

The young cats loved water. Whenever an overnight rain left puddles in the back yard they rushed out to paddle and splash in the water.
Edward brought that love of water indoors with him and until his final days couldn't resist splatting in the cats' water bowl.

Keeping watch in case a mouse should wander by.

Edward had a lazy demeanor. Next to his love of food was his enjoyment of a cozy bed.

A vantage spot in the tiny kitchen of the G'ville house.

The bathroom sink is cool on a summer day. It would be better if the water was allowed to drip.

A leafy spot near the west door.

Posing in the herb garden.

'Is it time for 'tea?'

Edward appreciated quilts.

Edward had many of the characteristics of A. A. Milne's iconic Winnie the Pooh. [Not the 'Pooh' of Disney portrayal.]
Like 'Edward Bear' our boy could be said to be a cat of 'very little brain.' 
Lacking the adventurous outdoor spirit of his brothers, Edward was lazy, a bit greedy, content to plonk himself in sun or shade for a nap.
When in 2019 we moved into our newly built house after spending the winter in a camper parked by the little barn, Edward repeatedly wandered down to sit on the camper steps, fully expecting there would be someone there to let him in. Called home, he sat there mewing plaintively, seemingly unable to reverse his path and return to the house. I never had the heart to leave him there in his bewilderment, instead trudging down to hoick his heavy self into my arms and lug him up the lane. 

Edward sleeps now in the rough ground near the graves of Mima and Charlie.
In the morning I will scatter seeds of blackberry lilies and Michaelmas daisies hoping that some few blooms will grow amongst the mossy stones. 


Monday, September 26, 2022

Fall Weather Journal

Zinnias on the first day of autumn.
The main garden has a tired and shabby appearance. 

Butternut squash were harvested about 10 days ago and have been stacked in baskets and boxes in the middle basement room.

I continue to cut David Austin roses nearly every morning. Some have tattered edges, but their scent it lovely. Rosie admires them. 

The days leading up to the autumnal equinox featured cool mornings--temps in the mid 50's -low 60's F. but warming up to afternoons in the high 80's.  On 21st September the late afternoon temperature registered at 94 F. 
Early in the week I canned the last of the garden produce--some early potatoes which weren't going to 'keep,' the last harvest of green beans, 4 qts of tomatoes shared by M. and G. from their weekly haul at the Amish auction. 
The first day of fall began with partly cloudy skies; all day we could sense cooler weather moving in.  By evening it was 64 F. 
Next day being brisk and breezy I pegged out sheets and my summer bedspread to flap dry on the back porch lines.  I made up my bed with an old quilted spread in soft muted colors; a fleece throw is folded at the foot of the bed--mostly to benefit the cats.

Son-in-law Matt was inspired to purchase mums at the auction--many are bought by wholesalers or those who have small variety shops. Buying at auction is a delight for the winning bidders, but I often think that the growers realize very little profit for their summer of tending the plants. 
I chose one in this rich mauve/purple color; Matt insisted I bring a second one as well as a copper hued one to hang on the porch.

The color in this photo is misleading; the blooms are more of a copper/gold.

A thunder storm roused us at 4:30 on Sunday morning--fierce jolts of lightning, followed by a burst of rain. The day later mellowed into blue skies with puffs of white clouds.

Today has been the sort of autumn day that inspires poets to descriptive rapture: temps in the 70's F. a light cool breeze, sunshine and bright blue skies. 
We noted two hummingbirds still visiting the feeders which I refilled with fresh syrup. 

I had errands which took me out for the afternoon, shopping at the bulk foods store to stock up on dried beans, pearl barley, tapioca, brown sugar, the farina that J. likes to cook as a breakfast cereal.

I made the rounds of the South Fork neighborhood discount stores, not finding quite as much as usual with which to stock pantry or freezer. Having made a quick foray through the nearest Kroger earlier and noting prices, I'm more than ever glad for our other resources, as well as the garden produce in colorful rows on the shelves downstairs. 
I must say though--who knew that cat litter would be in short supply!

I continue to sort things in the pantry, moving bulky items downstairs to the sturdy new shelves which J. and grandson D. assembled for me. 

I enjoy this time of transition, the heavy heat of summer becoming a memory, early mornings and evenings when a sweater or light fleece jacket is welcome. 
J. looking at the forecast temp for the night has herded cats in from the screened porch and firmly shut the door. 


Friday, September 16, 2022

Early Departure

12 September, a cool Monday morning, 61 F. and no sun until 10 a.m.

Late on Friday [9 September] I refilled both hummingbird feeders knowing we would be away all day on Saturday.
For two weeks the birds had been guzzling syrup, whirring at the hanging feeders, jostling as though famished. We have been able to count 8 hummers for certain, sometimes thinking there was a 9th in the constantly moving groups. 
The week had been cool, the waxing moon rising after dark. Heavy clouds and light rain obscured the full moon on Saturday night, the 10th, and rain drizzled down intermittently on Sunday. 
By mid day I realized that there was little activity around the hummingbirds feeders. Parking myself in a rocking chair on the porch I settled in to watch for hummers. Only two, a male and a female, came to sip the syrup. 
I thought of the swallows massed along the power wires that line our roads--I hadn't been surprised to see them gathering; swallows are always the first to leave early in autumn, but I expected the hummingbirds to be with us yet awhile.

I've kept notes for several seasons regarding the spring arrival and fall departures of 'our' hummingbirds. The leave-taking of most of the group has occurred this year more than two weeks earlier than previously. 

Hummingbirds, so I read, do not migrate in colonies. Even those who have mated, raised young, don't fly together to winter quarters. 
Tonight the remaining pair have refreshed themselves at the feeders. 
I wonder if they--or at least one--will wait until the end of September to depart.

This was our weather on April 13, 2022 when the first hummingbird, a lone male, arrived.
I had put out a feeder several days earlier. Three days later we saw the second male. 
The female birds were in residence by the 23rd.
Mornings were cold, a reluctant sun sometimes broke through in the afternoon. 
Leaves were too new, barely showing a mist of green, scant cover for the birds.

The west wall border was flourishing by April 13th, the "Jane" magnolias were in bud.

J. brought me this hanging basket on April 13th.
Perhaps its colorful presence near the porch railing encouraged the hummers to settle in for the season.
Working in the house, I note their movements through the windows--the tiny swirling, darting bodies a part of summer's pattern. 
When the last two fly away I will miss them for awhile--but the feeders will go out to welcome them back in April.


Sunday, September 11, 2022

Late Flowering

It is with regret each summer that I document the end of the sunflowers which for weeks have been a delightful part of our landscape. Close inspection would find a few shabby shreds of petals here and there, but their exuberant glory is past.
Goldfinches glean the seeds, so the bedraggled plants are left each year until frost has taken the entire garden.

From a row of cosmos directly planted into the soil, only this clump of white ones appeared. My intention is to save seeds for another summer.

Zinnias planted in the same row as the cosmos were slow to germinate and grew slowly at first. 
This variety has smaller blooms than some I have grown, colorful but not gaudy.

Dusty lavender Michaelmas Daisy.

Michaelmas Daisies from seed have rewarded me with 4 distinct colorways. 
The seed all came from Prairie Moon Nursery, several varieties.
The plants have grown far taller than I anticipated and have leaned out of the raised bed setting, crowding and shading lower growing plants--a situation that I hope to remedy--if I can find the stamina to extend my planting area on the west side of the house. 
[My last efforts to work on that project prompted 3 sessions with the chiropractor--and I am not yet put to rights.]

This deep purple variety is most like the New England asters that grow on roadsides in my native Vermont.

Deep vivid pink--for want of a more descriptive color.

Soft dusty rose.

Two fresh blooms on the white clematis--only survivor of the starts from Spring Hill Nursery two years ago.

Finally--late in the season--nasturtiums in the big pot set in the corner between the greenhouse and the barn door.

David Austin: The Poet's Wife.
The roses are a bit bedraggled, though the worst scourge of Japanese beetles is over.

Mexican sunflowers which appeared after a year's absence in front of the unquenchable, supposedly 'dwarf' buddleia.
I pruned it ruthlessly in late spring, which seems only to have encouraged it to explosive growth. 

As cooler autumn weather moves in I remain hopeful that I can do some garden tidying and transplanting--maybe in tiny increments which don't threaten my elderly bones.


Thursday, September 1, 2022

Harvest Journal: 1 September

Last evening as heat leached from the day, we spent an hour bringing in produce that was ready for harvest.
The garden is looking shabby--not unusual for the time of year;  in some spots we gave up on weeding. Vines of squash, cucumbers and melons have run wild, creating a tangle of now wilting leaves and woody stems which must be carefully navigated to find the relevant items.

Butternut squash, initially a bit stunted by the long July draught, went into high gear with the heat and moisture of August. Squash vine borers gave us a miss this year. 

The tomato plants set out in hope of a fall crop are thus far a disappointment, growing leggy, slow to develop. Tomatoes are a frustrating venture here. We have tried heirloom varieties, others that boast of superior blight and disease resistance, bush types. We've tied plants to stakes and wires, surrounded them with cages, dosed them with a copper based fungicide.  About the best we can expect is a few tomatoes of moderate quality, enough for the table in the weeks before plants succumb to blight. 

I had hopes for the tiny yellow pear tomatoes for salads--the plants sent out wild tentacles of growth in spite of judicious pruning. Half-ripened tomatoes split and fall to the ground. The plants have become host to tomato horn worms which I pluck off and stomp.

Potatoes have done well. Like the butternut squash--a late fall crop in our native Vermont, potatoes here need to be harvested in the heat of late summer.
A few sweet potatoes grown from two large sweet potatoes that sprouted while neglected in a dark corner of the pantry

Green peppers have been so abundant that I have twice taken some to the Beachy's produce farm.  I would have been content to see them shared rather than going to waste, but Mrs. Beachy insisted on paying for them.  Peppers can be diced and frozen for winter casseroles, but must be carefully packed or the smell and flavor will spread to everything in the freezer.

Melons have been excellent. We've shared them, eaten many, thrown out some that sat too long in the fridge. Only a few have been damaged by marauding racoons or possums. The electric fence is doing its work.
I've now had two pickings from the late crop of green beans. These are Tendercrop. Not enough for canning or to fuss with the vacuum sealer. I'm finding some 'bug' damage to the leaves of the bean bushes as well as minute 'holes' in some of the beans, although I didn't detect the usual nasty bean beetles. 

Cabbages, broccoli and Chinese cabbage settling in after the rains--I'm keeping a wary eye out for white cabbage butterflies and their offspring, the green 'loopers.'

Not long ago I put out chunks of a stale melon for the delectation of the nightly wildlife visitors. 
How ironic that seeds have sprouted in the gravel walk!