Saturday, September 30, 2006

Inky Gets the Mail

Every day Inky sat in her tree on Julep Street and watched the curious things that the people and the dogs did. She was fascinated by the strange routines they seemed to be in. Every day, Sam would drive down Julep Street in his white mail truck. Every day he would drive up to each of the mail boxes, open the box, and put something in it. Every day, when he approached Kerry's cow mail box, Freckles, the dog, would bark and bark. Sam would put something in the box, Freckles would bark and bark, and Sam would drive on. Freckles would then be pleased, because, once again, he had driven the intruder away. Every day, Kerry would go to the mail box and take out what Sam had put in. Every day, Freckles would know that Kerry didn't want that stuff to be in the box. So, the next day, when Sam drove up in his white mail truck, Freckles would bark and bark and drive him away again. Every day, Inky watched this routine. Inky didn't know what it meant, and she didn't really care. Inky just liked to watch people and dogs. Inky noticed that this didn't just happen at Kerry's house. All up and down Julep Street, at every house, Sam would stop and put things in the mail box. If there was a dog, the dog would bark and bark. Sam would drive away. A person would take something out of the box. Bowser barked and chased Sam away. Fido barked and chased Sam away. Nenana barked and chased Sam away. They all barked and chased Sam away from the mail boxes. And yet, every day he came back. It fascinated Inky, that he would come back. It was like a dance they all did, it never ended, it never changed.

Then, one day, something did change. Because Sam really liked dogs, and because he didn't want them to dislike him, he decided to do something about it. Sam decided that if he put dog biscuits in the mail boxes (of the houses with dogs) the dog biscuits would smell like him, and the dogs would eat them, and then the dogs would like Sam because he brought the dog biscuits and they wouldn't bark and bark any longer. So, that is what Sam did. At Bowser's house, he left a dog biscuit. At Fido's house, he left a dog biscuit. At Nenana's house, he left a dog biscuit. And at Freckles's house, he left a dog biscuit.

Inky looked at this and Inky smelled the dog biscuits, because ravens can smell food a mile away.Yum, those dog biscuits smelled good. Inky knew about dog biscuits, but usually she had to sneak them away from the dogs, and sometimes the dogs chased her. Of course, if Bowser or Freckles chased her, Inky just flew into a tree and they couldn't catch her, but still it was work. So, Inky was really interested in the dog biscuits in the mail boxes. She flew down to Kerry's mail box, and she used her strong beak, and she opened the mail box. She used her strong beak to reach into the box and pull out the dog biscuit. Of course, when she did this, the letters and magazines came out, too. They fell on the ground, right in a puddle of rain, and made a mess. Inky didn't even notice, she was up in her tree eating the dog biscuit. Some of Inky's friends saw what she did, and they began opening mail boxes, getting dog biscuits, and scattering mail as well. All up and down Julep Street, the mail was strewn in the road and in the puddles. When Kerry came out to get the mail, it was all in that puddle. Kerry had no idea who opened the mail box and scattered the mail. She was distressed.

The next day, Sam put dog biscuits in the mail boxes for Bowser and Fido and Nenana and Freckles. The next day Inky and her friends stole the dog biscuits and scattered the mail. The next day Kerry and all of the people found their mail on the road and in the puddles again. By now, the people were all very puzzled. Who could be throwing their mail around? Why were they doing it?

And so, the next day Kerry watched carefully when Sam drove down Julep Street. She saw him put her mail in the box. Then she saw Inky fly down, open the box, scatter the mail, and fly away with something in her beak. Kerry wondered what Inky had flown away with? The day after that, Kerry waited by the mail box and when Sam came she asked what he was putting in the mail box. "A dog biscuit for Freckles," he answered. "Oh, my," said Kerry, "you must stop. See how the ravens are flying down to the boxes behind you and scattering the mail to get at the dog biscuits?" "Oh, I am so sorry," said Sam, "I didn't even think about ravens. I will stop." And so he did. Sam never put another dog biscuit in the mail boxes, and the dogs never learned to like him. But, Inky and the ravens knew that it had happened once, and so to this day they still open the mail boxes and scatter the mail looking for dog biscuits. It drives Kerry crazy. She says, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to explain to someone in Kansas that the reason you didn't pay the bill is you didn't get it because a raven stole it?"

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Critter Blogging

Once upon a time, Julie and Richard and I lived in Fairbanks in a log house with moose antlers over the front door. Since Horney Hall seemed a bit much for the name of a house with children, we called it Antler Manor. If you look carefully, you can see the antlers as well as the newly turned earth of our vegetable garden. This house had originally been a one room cabin, belonging to a lady of the night, and had grown, one room at a time over the decades. Sadly, it is no longer there, having been purchased and torn down to create a parking lot for the church next door.

(I don't know -- to tear down an ex-house of ill repute for a church parking lot just seems wrong to me.)
At various times we shared Antler Manor with other people, and we always shared it with critters. The first acquired was Julie's dog, Samantha, who was half Labrador and half Saint Bernard. Sam was an eternally patient dog, allowing all of these other animals to climb on and sit on her. Also, she allowed Julie to garb her in long dresses and to crawl right into her dog house and watch her puppies being born. Such a wonderful dog, I will miss her forever.

Then came my cat, The Grey Mouser, and Richard's cat, Fafhrd the Barbarian. They were good at climbing the family Christmas trees and knocking them over, so that we had to run guy wires to the curtain rods to secure them. Also, they once cornered a Saint Bernard named Thor who was trying to catch the parrot and scratched his nose until he backed off and Julie and Richard were able to wrestle him outdoors.

Then Richard got a rabbit, which he named Playboy. (Don't talk to me about this, it wasn't my idea.) Playboy, like all of the beasts, ran free about the house, returning to his cage to use the bathroom.

The final addition to our home zoo was Grandma, an Amazonian parrot. Initially, he (he came to us with that gender and that name and there you are) belonged to Julie, but she gave him to me for Christmas, and so he was mine. He loved to grab onto a walnut (in shell) and be lifted into the air by his beak. He was a most affectionate bird, flying about the house and landing on my shoulder to have his neck scratched. I was always amazed, when I felt how very thin his neck was, that he was so trusting. I could easily have killed him, but he offered his little neck to me and never considered that he was in any danger. The way animals trust us will never cease to amaze me.

Although this picture is kind of fuzzy because they were both in motion, you can see that Fafhrd and Grandma were good friends. Fafhrd used to curl up against the cage on the outside, and Grandma would snuggle up on the inside, and they would be fur to feathers, and both purr.

The one time we needed another person in the house with a camera, was a Sunday morning when the kids had crawled in bed with me to read. Suddenly I realized that, starting left to right, was Richard (ten at the time), Fafhrd, me, Mouser, Julie (eight), with Playboy and Samantha curled up on our feet and Grandma perched on my knee.

If critters can get along, why can't people?

P. S. I'm home.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

My Life in Spankings

I remember six spankings. My mother, who pretty much thought I could do little wrong except get my clothes dirty or ripped when I was little and she had to wash them on a scrub board, was the only one of my parents who believed in it at all. She was nine years younger than my father (and 20 younger than my step-father) and less experienced. Once in a very great while she would reach the end of her tether, usually when I did something dangerous. Actually, I'm amazed at the patience she had, since I was always doing dangerous things. When I was four, she found me on the third story scaffolding of a building that was going up down the street. Took it like a trooper.

When I was three and she was pregnant with my brother Storm, who died when he was a few months old, I discovered that I could outrun her. We were living in a city at the time, and having me run into traffic must have almost stopped her heart. Poor Mama, when my father got home I ran out to him, calling, "Ginnie spanked me! Ginnie spanked me!" (which would seem to indicate that it wasn't the first time, since I knew he wouldn't approve) and I remember him explaining to her that she was the grown-up and surely they could figure out something to do instead. Instead was a leash. After that, when my mother and I went out alone together, I was on a leash. Good thing, too, or you wouldn't be reading this.

When I was about four, we were staying with my Grandmother Hunt while my father and Uncle Leland were doing some construction around her place. She owned a trailer park and would not allow me to play with the children who lived there, which made no sense to me, since my parents and I lived in a trailer park when we weren't staying with her. One day she caught me playing with one of the children, and when my father came in she insisted that he spank me. He took me out to the tank house, and my mother could hear the spanking and screaming clear into the house. Since he didn't believe in spanking, she thought he must have lost his mind, and came out to save me. When she got closer she heard Whack. Scream. Then, laughter. She looked in the window and saw that I was sitting on his lap while he hit a chair with his belt and after each hit, I screamed. The laughter explains itself. My grandmother felt so sorry for me she spoiled me for a week.

Number three was a humdinger. My mother was terrified. In 1945, Storm had died, and then in early 1948 Forrest, who was seven months old, got pneumonia and almost died, and barely two months after that my father died. We were staying with my grandparents, and in the course of two weeks I had managed to fall into the irrigation canal and sit on a nail. On this particular day I was up in the apricot tree right outside the kitchen door, eating green apricots. I was strictly forbidden to do this, as Mama believed that green fruit would make me sick. It never did, and to this day I love mildly green apricots, but that was the theory and she was the mother. She came out into the yard to call me in for lunch, and stood right under the tree I was in while waiting for me. Of course, I didn't dare come out of the tree. After she had called me for a good 20 minutes and was getting hysterical (I wasn't feeling any too calm myself), my grandfather told her to go inside, he would get me. She went barely inside the kitchen door, keeping an eye on the yard. Grandpa walked toward the front of the house, calling, "Peanut, do you want to go with me to change the water?" I was down out of that tree like a shot, Mama saw me and was on me before my grandfather could turn around, and I remember my grandmother screaming, "Percy, stop her! She's going to kill that child!" Grandpa dealt with Mama and my grandmother scooped me up and handed me off to my two aunts, who hid me until Mama calmed down.

Number four was another that I never received. We only stayed with my grandparents a few months, and then my mother's sister, Florence (on whose 18th birthday I was born) came to live in the trailer and help my mother support and raise Forrest and me. I'm not sure what I had done that day, but it may have been lighting the fire under the trailer. (The woman who took care of us while Mama and Aunt Flossie were at work had turned me outside of her trailer for the day as soon as they left and didn't feed me lunch, so I got some bacon from our trailer and was getting ready to cook it for myself when another neighbor stopped me. [We were cared for by someone else from then on.]) Since my mother had so little experience with spanking, she and Flossie had this conference trying to figure out how to do it, and since they had usually gotten my grandfather's razor strop, and they didn't have a razor strop, they decided to use an ironing cord, which they proceeded to try out on each other and decide it was too awful to use on me.

Next time I was nine. I had been away to boarding school, only returning to live with my mother when she remarried. The thing about boarding school -- you don't have to come right home after, because you live there. Which my mother didn't figure out, and when, on my first day at public school, I didn't come home from school until about 15 minutes before my step-father got home from work, she was worried to a fare-thee-well and the minute I came in promised me that he was going to spank me as soon as he got home. Poor man! They must have been married all of three weeks and he comes home to the news that he is spanking the child he's trying to establish a relationship with. He told my mother he wouldn't make her a liar this time, but he didn't believe in spanking and he wasn't going to do it again. And then he took the switch she had brought in and tried to spank me. Except that I wasn't used to it, I knew he didn't want to do it, I didn't believe I deserved it, and so I kept moving. I ran in and around and through his legs; he got welts, I didn't even get hit.

When I was ten and Forrest was five, we were playing with Colleen who was about four months old, and I was holding her on his back so he could give her a horsey back ride and we dropped her. I took that one like a good little soldier.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My Very Talented Toes

When I was 31 and living in Fairbanks and my sister Colleen was 21 and living at home with the folks in Stockton, Julie, Richard, and I went to California to visit. One night I left the kids with my parents and Colleen and I went out to a movie. When we got home, the house was dark and everyone was in bed. We sat up, talking and laughing quietly, until about 2:00 when the giggles got so loud that they woke our mother, who came out to find me trying to teach Colleen how to write with her foot. However, Colleen had narrow, ladylike feet and couldn't hold the pencil well. When Mama got out there, we were rolling on the floor howling because Colleen had declared that she would never be as good as me; she would never be able to forge historical documents with her feet.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Olive Groves

I have been reading Much Depends on Dinner by Margaret Visser. In it she creates a simple meal, and then explores in great depth each component of it. She looks at the history of this food, the way it is produced, the myths that surround it, the meanings that cultures have given it, how it has been eaten and cultivated through history. I have found this an absolutely fascinating book. One of the courses in her meal is a simple salad of lettuce, olive oil, and lemon juice.

I learned things about each of the foods she mentions that I had never suspected before, but when I arrived at the olive oil I was affected like I had not been anywhere before in this book -- and considering how upset I got about what we are doing to chickens, that is saying a lot.

An olive tree is an amazing thing. They grow to be up to 2,000 years old. The one pictured here may well be that age. And they bear fruit for all the years of their lives. The planting of an olive tree is a promise to posterity, because until recent botanical advances, the tree you plant is the tree your child will harvest. To invest the work involved in planting and caring for a tree that doesn't bear fruit until you are an elder is a truly altruistic act, on a par with building a light house that keeps ships from crashing on your shores and providing you with salvage.

In the middle east, olive groves are not like an American orchard; they do not belong to one person, they are not full of trees that are being replaced as they age. They belong to communities and all of the trees in an 1,000-year-old olive grove, are 1,000 years old. Individual trees may belong to several families and have been passed down from their ancestors since they were originally planted. The fact that your family was on this land 1,000 years ago to plant this tree, is a deed to land in and of itself.

The trees are loved as individuals. Some of them have personal names; all of them are known to have characteristics that are recognized and celebrated. This tree is a generous giver and that can resist horribly adverse conditions. They are evergreens, so they provide shade all year round. Sometimes, as they grow, their suckers are trained to provide a ladder into the branches for difficult hand picking. Children play beneath them and climb into them.

The fruit can be used only with a great deal of labor. To eat the olives, first they must be bathed in lye, then rinsed, they pickled in brine. The oil must be pressed, a technique of great antiquity and skill. The oil can be used to cook, as a lotion for the skin, to prevent infection in wounds, to burn for light -- it was olive oil that the wise and foolish virgins Christ tells of were burning in their lamps. Olive oil was used to anoint people (priests, popes, kings, guests) and objects; to do so rendered them singular and holy. When kings were anointed with olive oil it meant that they could not be overthrown, they had been accepted by God as his own. Indeed, even when God was displeased with Saul and chose David to replace him, Saul could not be touched because he had been anointed with olive oil.

So, what does it mean when a people's olive groves are destroyed by bulldozers in a border dispute? By a culture that knows full well, as most Americans do not, the meanings and symbols of those groves? What does it mean when the trees your forefathers planted a thousand years ago, the trees that have sustained your family for all that time and in all those ways, the trees that stood as your deed to the land are ripped from the earth?

Sunday, September 24, 2006


I will be in Sitka and probably away from any computers between Sunday morning and Thursday night. Meantime, Julie will use her authority as my team member and publish one of the posts I have in the can every day. However, since I have comment moderation, the comments will have to wait until I return. Please do comment, it's how I know you care.

If I get to a computer while I'm gone, I will drop in and see what thoughts you've had. In the meantime, the first time I went to Sitka (about 12 years ago) I walked across this bridge, which goes from the island the town is on to the island the airport is on, and when I got back to town I was so dehydrated from the wind that I drank three glasses of ice water in the time it took the waitress to bring me a Pepsi. The waitress said the staff was worried I wasn't going to come up for air. And, I have never, in all my life tasted anything better.

The Lakota Grandmother's Cat

Now, Maya should know that her Granny has a friend named Frieda, and Frieda is half Irish, and half Lakota. And that means that, just like Maya, Frieda has a grandmother whose family has been in this country for a long time, and a grandmother whose family came to this country very recently. But, with Maya her Granny, whose family came from England, is from the family that has been here a long time and her Ma, whose family came from India, is from the family that came more recently. With Frieda, her Grandma, who is Lakota, is from the family that has been here a long time (ever so much longer than Granny's family has been here, as a matter of fact) and her Gran actually lives in the old country of Ireland and hasn't come here yet. And the thing is that Lakotas are American Indians, so that Frieda and Maya are each half European-American and half Indian,— but Maya is a different kind of Indian.

So, it happens that Frieda went to visit her Grandma on the reservation for Christmas. And her Grandma was telling her how she is getting older. And, indeed she is, because Frieda is older even than Granny, and so her Grandma is almost 100 years old. So, Grandma was telling Frieda, in Lakota, all about what it is like to be very old. She has to walk slowly. She has to rest often. She isn't as strong as she used to be. Sometimes she forgets words. She doesn't always hear exactly what people say to her. And she doesn't see as well as she used to.

Grandma was telling Frieda that one day she saw that her cat was asleep under the rocking chair. Now, she wanted to sit in that rocking chair, and she was afraid that she might rock on the cat's tail and hurt her. So, she called the cat. But the cat didn't move. So then Grandma went in to the kitchen and got a bowl of milk for the cat. She put the bowl of milk under the rocking chair. And that was when she realized that her cat wasn't under the chair at all,— it was her scarf! "No wonder, thought Grandma, that the cat didn't come when I called her."

Frieda says this story is much funnier when you tell it in Lakota. Granny would do that, but she doesn't know Lakota and neither does Maya. But what Granny thinks when she hears this story is that it doesn't matter where your grandmother comes from -- people are people everywhere. Many grandmothers are walking slower and not seeing or hearing as well as they did. And the ones that have cats, love those cats and don't want them to be hurt. And they all love to tell stories to their grandchildren. English or Indian, Irish or Lakota -- a grandmother is a grandmother the world around.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Granny & Maya & The Snorts
A Story From When Maya Was Three

Invaded by Snorts!

Oh, it was a fine June morning, the sun had been out for hours and the birds were singing and all was very right with the world. Missy and Granny were sound asleep, with Granny having a wonderful dream about Maya, because it was only 6:00, and not time to get up yet. The cool breeze that came in the open bedroom window was refreshing, and the bird song was like a lullaby, and because they are both used to living in Alaska, the light didn't bother them at all.

And then . . . and then . . . the gentle morning sounds were disrupted by a cacophony of sheer, ugly noise! Missy jumped off the bed and Granny sat straight up, startled at this sound so very, very early, and Granny checked her watch, and it said 6:01. "What on earth," said Granny, as she stood up to look out the window, although she knew very well what on earth, she just couldn't believe it! Sure enough, there they were on the corner not 50 feet from Granny's window -- heavy road building equipment. Tractors. Loaders. A huge dump truck. Now, they had been parked there the night before, because there had been work being done on Gold Street (just a two building block away) and on 8th Street (right in front of her house) for over a month now. But they usually didn't start until 7:00!

Granny just stood looking out of her window at all these huge yellow machines, and she could hardly believe that they would really start at 6:01 in the morning! (And Granny wasn't the only one. All of the people on her hill were stumbling around in an early morning fog wondering why on earth this was happening to them.)

Roar, roar, roar went the machines. Beep, beep, beep they said as they backed up. Granny just shook her head. "This," Granny said to Missy, "reminds me of the book Are You My Mother? and the bird who meets the big piece of heavy equipment and calls it a snort. Missy, we have been invaded by snorts! Snorts roaring. Snorts beeping. Snorts rumbling. Snorts snorting." So, since obviously they were not going to get back to sleep, Granny got up and got dressed (and even though she had been invaded by snorts, Granny still thought about Maya) and went down stairs. Roar, roar, roar went the machines. Beep, beep, beep as they backed up. Snort, snort, snort, rumble, rumble, rumble. "Lawsy me," said Granny, (feeling quite old fashioned to be using such an expression) "it isn't bad enough that we can't sleep, we can't even think in this noise!" And Missy went right over and bit the cilantro plant for comfort.

And later that morning, when it was time to go to work, Granny opened the door to go out and Missy started to go outdoors to check her territory like she does every single day when the weather is fine and most days when it is not, and one of those snorts did a rumble just then and Missy turned around and went right back inside. "Let the territory take care of itself," she seemed to say, "today, I need to take care of myself." Granny walked down the hill to her office, and there, right outside her office window, were more snorts! Roar, roar, roar, beep, beep, beep, rumble, rumble, rumble, snort, snort, snort. "Oh," said Granny, "what a day I'm having! No escape at all." And when she turned on her computer (and typed in her magic power-on password, Moona, to make it work) she put a CD of 40s music in the CD drive and sang along with Jimmy Dorsey and Eddy Duchin and Shep Fields, and that cheered her up. But, still, all day long, snort, snort, roar, roar, beep, beep, rumble, rumble right outside her window and she couldn't close the window, because it was already 63 degrees and she would roast without it open. So Granny wrote it all down and mailed it to Maya as a story.

They Say Beep, Beep, Beep

Now, Granny has received many good phone calls in her life. "When can you start your new job?" is one she has liked."Would you like to go to a movie (or out to dinner)?" is always fun. "Ted said the L word," and "Ted and I are getting married," and "Ted and I are going to have a baby" were three of the most outstanding in the entire world. And five days after Granny mailed the story to Maya, she received such a wonderful call, it may be the very best of them all (although the three about Ted and Julie and the baby are right up there).

As she was finishing dinner the phone rang. When she answered, it was Maya's Mama, and she said, "Would you like to talk to Maya?" What a silly question. There is never a minute of her life that Granny wouldn't like to talk to Maya.

So, Maya got on the phone, and she said, "Granny, they're in your yard and in your house! They say beep, beep, beep," she beeped in a high, beepy little voice. "They say rumble, rumble, rumble," she rumbled in a gruff, rumbly little voice. "There are snorts in your yard!"

"Yes, Maya," said Granny, "there are snorts in my yard and they say beep, beep, beep, and rumble, rumble, rumble."

"Yes, Granny, I played in the sandbox and I got all wet and dirty," said Maya, telling Granny about the sandbox with the water and sand that she played in.

"Oh, my," said Granny, "did you get sand in your hair?" "No, I got it on my belly," said Maya. "Well," said Granny, "that's better than in your hair. It is easier to get off of your belly than out of your hair."

And then Maya told Granny all of her news. She told her about going to see the fireworks, "they made a blond ponytail, like Jewel and Sara. They go pop, pop, pop. They work hard, hard, hard." And she told Granny about going to the zoo "I saw Rama and Rajah," she said, talking about the elephants. "And, Granny, when I went to San Francisco, I saw BART." "Dado is at work," said Maya, "he is at 1-0-1-7, KKIQ."

"Are you listening to Dado on the radio now?" asked Granny. "No, I'm talking to you," said Maya.

What fun Maya has been having! How delightfully she tells about it. And, when it was time to get off the phone, Maya said, "I love you, Granny." And Granny said, "I love you, too, Maya." And the next morning when Granny woke up, the first thing she thought was "They say beep, beep, beep. They say rumble, rumble, rumble." And she was very happy.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

The Hooligans and Their Kitty Kondo Condo

What an unfortunate name the manufacturer gave this piece of cat furniture. Being a bit of a language purist (when I change a word it is for my desired effect, not some ignorant sounding stupidity imposed on me by an advertising person!), I simply refuse to use it. Here we have Pippin, otherwise called Sweetie and "you soft black devil" or "Oh, NO you don't" curled up in his Cuties box. Both cats love curling up in slightly confining spaces and this box is a great favorite. At the moment I think it is under my desk, having been pushed there by Merry. Come December, I will need to buy another box of clementines so that they each have a box. (They did at one time, but my cleaning help threw one away thinking it was garbage.) See what pretty eyes Pippin has. What with him being black, that's about the only facial feature you can see when I take his picture from the front.

Here is Pippin getting some exercise. I drilled holes in the bottom of the "tiger ledge" and screwed in hooks to hang things from. I rotate various items onto these hooks and the Hooligans have a playground that they don't get bored with. Notice the wonderful sisal wrap around the scratching post -- actually I found this when I was in the pet store looking for a taller sisal post, because as you can see my boys had outgrown the scratching post a friend had given them when they were little kittens. The shop didn't have a taller sisal post and we couldn't find one in their catalogue, but there was this wonderful thing, and other than its silly name, I have been perfectly satisfied with it. Anyway, it allows for stretching and claw sharpening.

And here we have Merry getting ready to spring at the toy. Merry is also called Sweet Face and "Will you move your ass so I can feed you?" and "Bite my foot one more time and I'm throwing you out on the mountain and changing your name to Bear Bait!" That last is the name I am calling him even as I write this.

Merry is the larger of the two -- he was an ounce larger when I got them and now weighs two pounds more than Pippin. He is taller and has bigger bones. Pippin is the smarter of the two (as measured by being able to figure out how to get into more places I thought were secure [which is why all my cupboards have child proof catches on them and I store a box of Raisin Bran in the oven] and make more messes) and, because of being just that much smaller, can jump higher. Merry was the first to get up onto the tops of my kitchen cupboards, where he got stuck and had to be helped down. Pippin wasn't big enough for about six weeks after that, and although he had to be helped down the first time, he goes up and down at will now. Merry hasn't been back up.

Both, as with all of the tomcats I've ever known, are very affectionate. They love to cuddle with me and with each other. When they were very little, they would both curl up on my breast and the purring was very loud and comforting. They make a good team, tackling things together. My favorite time they did that, they were about eight weeks old and I was tying the bow in my draw string jeans while they climbed my pants' legs, batting at the strings. It is moments like that when I wish there was someone around with a camera, because it was very funny.

I got them about a month after Missy died. The apartment had become too lonely without her, and their antics, particularly when they were in the jumping-flea stage, made me laugh so much they reduced my blood pressure. I named them for Tolkein characters, and other than the fact that people hear Mary instead of Merry and think he is a girl, they are perfect names for them. Pippin is, as was his namesake, always into things and curious about things best left alone and Merry has a sunny disposition and gets into less trouble.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Papa Bear

Once upon a time, in the 1930s, a very long time before Maya was born, and a long time before her Mama was born, but not very long before her Granny was born, Granny's Little Mama, Virginia (Ginny), and her sister, Florence (Flo, these days, Aunt Flo) were young girls. Now, as it happened, one summer when Ginny and Flo were in high school, their parents, Percy and Lillian, took them to Long Beach to visit their grandparents. Now, Maya may not know, but Long Beach is a town right on the ocean, like San Francisco, only warmer. And in the 30s, the Navy ships would dock there and the sailors would have shore leave.

So, one bright, hot day of this particular summer, Percy and Lillian and Ginny and Flo decided to take a walk on the boardwalk. It was a lovely day, with just a few clouds in the sky and the waves coming in and making that lovely ocean waves sound and the sea gulls wheeling over the water and begging from anyone who would feed them. There were many people walking on the boardwalk, families, and young couples, and friends, and children, and sailors. Pretty soon, Flo and Ginny were talking together and Lillian and Percy were talking together, so they started walking two by two, instead of all four together. And Ginny and Flo were in front, with their parents some distance behind. Flo and Ginny were very pretty girls, and they walked with their heads bent toward each other as they shared secrets, their long dark hair being gently rustled by the wind, and they were very lovely to look at. Percy and Lillian were very proud of them as they walked behind, keeping two pairs of fond eyes on them.

Well, what do you know, Percy and Lillian weren't the only ones who had fond eyes for those pretty Herndon sisters, no indeed they weren't. One minute Flo and Ginny were walking along together, and the very next minute two sailors came up behind them and each one put an arm around the waist of a sister. Ginny and Flo didn't know what to do or say, because they were well brought up girls and nothing like this had ever happened to them before. They were very uncomfortable -- they didn't know these two young men, and they didn't want to know them, either.

But then, just as Ginny was turning red and Flo was stammering in her embarrassment, up came their Daddy (Percy) and grabbed one sailor in each hand, and knocked their heads together. And as he threw them away, another sailor (one who had better sense than to just move in on a young girl) was heard to say "Next time, check first to see where Papa Bear is."

And Mama

I just got up, and as I was sitting looking out the window, a bear came ambling quietly up the hill, from behind the apartment building across the street. A moment later, she was followed by a cub. She stood still and allowed him to catch up, and then nuzzled his face. As they were walking calmly along, a dog came up to investigate, followed by a runner obviously concerned about him. The runner acted very calm, calling his dog so quietly I could barely hear, even though they weren't far from me and the window was open. Mama Bear and cub turned and meandered down the hill to Cope Park, runner and dog came this way, and all was well.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Where Has All My Cohort Gone?

We all started our public life with school. In the beginning, we were the youngest kids around, and everyone in our class was pretty much our age. Year by year, we progressed and became the older kids in that school, and then the youngest in the next. When we entered the work force, we started out the youngest there, as well.

For me, because I was born just ahead of the baby boom, I was always being chased by a crowd. My first grade class had 15 students and had all of the 1st and 2nd graders in the entire school. When we were born it was the very tail end of the Depression and the beginning of WWII -- people couldn't afford to have kids, and then the men were all overseas. Forrest came along just five years after me, and his 1st grade class had 35 students, met only half days so that another class of 35 could have the room the other half, and was one of two classrooms of 1st graders. That's 140 1st graders, as opposed to the 7 in my class. Admittedly, part of that was that we not only did 1st grade in different schools, but in different states. But, still!

For a number of years, the path in front of me was also full of people. There were older students, then older workers -- and that generation was larger than mine as well. And then one day I noticed that there were very few people in the office older than I was and even fewer my age. The older ones were retiring, but I wasn't old enough for that yet. Where, I wondered, had the people my age gone? They hadn't all died, surely! It puzzled me for a good couple of weeks, until I remembered that my age cohort was the teeny tiny waist between the surrounding cohorts. My age mates hadn't retired and they hadn't died. They hadn't ever been born.

I've been the one of oldest people in my last three offices, and the oldest in one of them. I look around and I seldom see anyone who looks like me. There aren't too many who remember things I remember and like music I like and expect certain things to be true. Younger workers don't use serial commas (as in red, blue, and green) and have used calculators their entire lives (which means that when they make a mathematical mistake there is no voice in their head that says, "That answer isn't possible."). Some of them have never seen carbon paper and don't understand what the problem would be for a woman college graduate to be asked her typing speed in a job interview. They don't remember women needing to get permission from their husbands to use their own paychecks to buy stock. Life has been so different for them. They have never kneaded the dye into the margarine and have no idea that it was once illegal to sell it colored yellow, or at all in Wisconsin. They've never been to a double feature or a Saturday afternoon cartoon line-up. They've never heard of the Movie Tone News.

It doesn't make me feel old, but boy does it make me feel lonely!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dropping French

My senior year of high school, I took classes at the local community college in the morning and at the high school in the afternoon. It was necessary to get my schedule approved at the end of my junior year.

On the very earliest day that I could get my advisor to sign approval, I took the schedule in. And my advisor looked at it and said, "I see you want to take German at the college and Latin at the high school. I can't sign for you to take two languages. Decide which one you want and come back and I will sign then."

By now you probably know that I never did like people telling me what I could or couldn't do. And I really never liked people telling me what I could learn! I waited until the last minute on Friday, when she wanted to go home for the weekend, and then I went to her office and said, "Mrs. Gottschalk, I decided you're right. Three languages are just too many. I've decided to drop French."

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Story for the Grandkids

I was over at One Good Thing, reading about how Flea's cats figured out how to open a Tupperware container with ten pounds of sugar in it and how her husband cried out,"No!! No!! God, no! What have you done?!" Instead of getting upset, she had her husband help her (by tossing the cat and the sugar he had cleaned up back on the counter) take a picture of the mess and how that had turned the frustration into a funny blog post. I remembered recently when Julie got a very bad ear of corn served in a restaurant in a town famous for its corn and took a picture of that for her blog and I realized that I have been doing this sort of thing long before the Internet. These days we say, "I'm going to have to blog about this," and I used to say, "This is going to make a great story to tell my grandchildren" and the problem would reduce from admitting of no solution into narrative.

When Julie and Richard and I first moved to Alaska, in the 60s, we lived on a homestead outside of Fairbanks. It was in line with power poles going further out and so had electricity, but no indoor plumbing or phone, and was heated by a potbelly stove, which is a lot more romantic to read about than to live with. Waking up in the morning to discover that, yet once again, the fire has gone out and there is ice on the water you intend to brush your teeth and bathe with, is less fun than you might imagine. Coming home from work to no smoke coming out of the chimney is an absolute downer. So, I replaced the potbelly stove with an oil burner, with three 50 gallon drums connected and placed on a platform outside the window. At first it was the most amazing thing. No one had to feed oil into the stove, just fill the barrels periodically, and the rest of the time gravity fed it and the house was warm.

Until the snow began to melt. What my 16-year-old nephew Tony and I hadn't realized when we installed the stove in January was that the ground we put the barrel platform on was frozen and would thaw come spring. Which it did. Not some day when it would have been convenient to discover the problem, but one night when I was alone out there, with two small children and the car stuck in the snow! The back end of the platform was sinking down and settling into the mud, and there was no oil high enough to flow into the heater. The kids were asleep and I was frantic. I couldn't get them out of there in the car. I couldn't walk them out at that time of night and depend on there being any traffic when I got us to the road. No phone meant I couldn't call for help. We had hiked out earlier and called Tony from a neighbor's and he was coming to help me get the car dug out the next afternoon, but that was a long way in the future and they were already exhausted from the first walk. And the house was getting colder and colder.

I tried everything I could think of. Nothing worked. There was just no way to get any oil from the barrel up the slope to the feeder barrel and back down to the heater! It looked like we were going to freeze with 120 gallons of oil right there, just at the wrong end of the gravity feed. And so, as I had done since I was about seven years old, I found myself saying, "Boy, this is going to be a story to tell to the grandkids!" And I started telling it in my head. "I tried a hose and it broke from the cold," I said (I had and it had), "and I tried jacking up the lower end of the platform, but I wasn't strong enough to manage that (I had and I wasn't), why I even tried pouring oil from the lowest barrel into a measuring cup and then pouring it into the highest barrel . . ." and there was the answer! I was able to get enough oil where it needed to be to hold us until Tony and his cousin Davy came out, three of us with two jacks were able to get the platform leveled again, we built a floor under the legs of the platform (which we tended every weekend through break-up), and Bob's your uncle, we had heat.

So, thank you Maya. Before your mother was even as old as you are right now, Granny saved the day by telling you a story.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Suffer the Little Children

Over at Big Fat Blog Paul has posted about The International Conference on Obesity in Sydney.
There was an interesting piece that Emily sent over from AFP. It claimed that girls as young as age 5 are worried about their weight. Instead of fostering a more supportive environment for all body types, however, Andrew Hill from Leeds University instead suggests a "modest" weight loss. For 5-year-olds.

Simply amazing! How utterly irresponsible to suggest that five-year olds diet at all! The study that came out of UC Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health in 2004 stated very clearly that dieting before you are fully grown sets you up to yo-yo ever higher and higher for life! That girls who diet before they are 14 are more likely to end up obese. That anyone who has been on three diets and isn't thin needs to stop now because they are never going to get thin this way, they are only going to get fatter.

Joanne Ikeda, co-director of UC Berkeley's Center for Weight & Health and lead author of the study stated that there is "growing evidence that repeated dieting adversely affects the body's metabolism, and that dieting before puberty disrupts the body's normal development."

Among those who began dieting before age 14, 84 percent said they weren't able to maintain any permanent weight loss. This compares with 67 percent of those who started dieting at age 14 or later.

These people can't not know this, any more than R.J. Reynolds doesn't know that tobacco is both addicting and fatal. Anything to turn a profit!

And think how much money they can make off of someone who starts dieting at 5! And how depressed she will be as her ability to lose weight as an adult is lower than it was when she was a little girl. If it takes three diets as a teen to set you up as a life long customer for these creeps, how many do you suppose it takes for a five-year old? What do you want to bet they already know?

And perhaps the most frightening thing about this was when I googled for an image of a "chubby child" and the pictures that came up were not of heavy children at all.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Cawthorne Musters the Troops

The years had been good for crows in Craig, Alaska. Food was plentiful and the weather was just as they like it and predators pretty much left them alone. Indeed, things went so well for the crows that when Cawthorne was a year old, the usual age to find his own mate and build his own nest and raise his own babies, there were no nesting places for most of the yearling crows. All of the good crow nesting places were already taken by older, established pairs of crows. For other birds, this might be a disaster. The yearlings would spend a lonely time and the following year, when nesting places came available, they would be disheartened and perhaps not settle down yet again. But, for crows it is a blessing when there are so many yearlings, because crows are very, very clever (almost as clever as ravens) and they have a plan for such a situation. What crows do in these circumstances is, the yearlings stay with their parents an extra year and help raise the next batch of nestlings. With three grown crows (a Mama and a Papa and a yearling) to search, there is more food for the nestlings; with three crows to protect, there is less danger to the nestlings; with an older brother or sister to help, the parents get more rest. And the yearling gets practice in how to raise nestlings, so that he starts out a better parent the following year. So, as you can see, this is a good situation, if you are a crow, as indeed Cawthorne is.

So, Cawthorne stayed with his Mama and Papa that year, and he helped to raise their nestlings. Sometimes Cawthorne searched for food, and flew it back to the nest, and stuffed it as quick as quick into the mouth of a screaming baby. Sometimes Cawthorne stayed guarding the babies while his Mama and Papa searched for food. When Johnnie Smith came near the nest, Cawthorne would cry out "Caw, caw, boy with a sling shot, boy with a sling shot" and all of the other nest guarding crows would hunch down over the nestlings, and all of the food searching crows would lay low until Johnnie was gone. When ravens came to see if there were any unguarded nestlings, Cawthorne would cry out "Caw, caw, Dusky the raven, Dusky the raven" and all of the nest guarding crows would hunch down over the nestlings, and all of the food searching crows would fly back to mob Dusky and chase her away from the nests. Yes, indeed, Cawthorne and the other yearlings were a big help to the parent crows.

One day Cawthorne came back from hunting food for his little sister and brothers to find his Mama hunched down over the nestlings and an eagle flying low over the nest. Cawthorne knew that the eagle wanted baby crow to feed to her baby eagles. Cawthorne wasn't going to let that happen. He dropped the food he had been bringing back and flew high into the sky, calling "Caw, caw, eagle near the nests, eagle near the nests!" In all the surrounding trees, nest guarding crows hunched down over their nestlings.

From all the surrounding trees and near sky food searching crows flew to mob the eagle. They flew at the eagle, harrying her and cawing at her, eight of them at once. "Caw, caw," cried Cawthorne and other crows, "Eagle near the nests, eagle near the nests". More crows came from further and further away. They swarmed at the eagle from below her and above.

The eagle flew into a tall tree and landed on a branch and hunkered down. She knew the crows couldn't hurt her while she was in the tree, but she also knew they were mad and would mob her even more if she tried to fly away too soon. Down she hunkered. Cawthorne and his friends flew around and around her, cawing and cawing. Cawthorne would fly at the eagle and then he would call out for more troops, "Caw, caw" and then he would land and rest for a few minutes. The tree with the eagle was surrounded by flying crows, more and more of them by the minute, until there were over 80 crows, some mobbing the eagle, some resting in the branches, some flying high into the sky and calling for even more crows. Oh, was that eagle sorry she had ever thought about feeding her babies little crow.

When the crows finally let the eagle fly away, she was properly chastened. She would never try for baby crow again (which was why the crows had harried her for so long. It is not enough to stop this attack, if you are a crow, you want to prevent any others.) "Oh," she thought in disgust, "no wonder my mother told me fish are the proper food for little eagles. Fish don't call for help and trap you in a tree." And off she flew to the shore, to catch a herring for her babies.

Cawthorne's Mama and Papa were very proud of him for mustering the troops. They praised him and praised him. His little sister and brothers thanked him for saving them. The other crows told him how smart and handsome he was. And one very cheeky yearling crow, named Cawman, flirted with him outrageously. Cawthorne's Mama looked at Cawman and she thought, "Well, Cawthorne is set for next year. He can find food with the best of them. He can guard the nest well. He knows how to muster the troops. And he has a lovely, cheeky, clever young crow interested in him. Yes, my Cawthorne will do alright."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Granny's Boys

Before they became the Hooligans, when they were small, Merry and Pippin were known as Granny's Boys. Like all cats, they love to get in small, enclosed spaces. Here is Merry, in the waste basket. I would come downstairs in the morning, and there he would be. I would come home from work, and there he would be. Isn't that the sweetest kitten face you've ever seen? I'm glad that it is an attractive basket, since he certainly isn't trash.

Pippin, who has always been his own cat, preferred the dish strainer. Flash bulbs show that his fur isn't pure black; there is some mottling of fawn in it. However, under any other light, he looks deep, coal black. You can see him here, helping me fix breakfast (see the blender with my smoothie in it). Wherever I am, there they like to be, and they love to hang out on counters and help me cook or clean up. Try and convince them that cat hair isn't a necessary ingredient (the equivalent, perhaps, of garlic) in any and all dishes; it does no good. They know I would be lost without their help, have no idea that there ever was a time before them, so they don't worry about how I got along in those far off, unimaginable times.

They also love to climb. This is one of my favorite pictures of Merry, as he climbs the scratching post with a black shoe lace in his mouth. Notice the tension in his little neck -- it reminds me of Julie with the box, if you want to know the truth. After he climbed the post with the shoe string, he would lay it across the top and then lay on his back and bat at the ends. Talk about a kitten who could entertain himself -- he even made his own toys. I've never seen another cat do anything like this. Because he has always been the larger cat, he was always ahead of Pippin in athletic pursuits.

As I said, Pippin is his own cat. He much preferred to climb my daughter in law, Kathy, and snuggle with her. She obviously enjoyed it too -- such contentment on her face and in the lines of his body. Pippin has a real talent for just melting right into the person he is laying on. Pippin is a little older here than they are in the other pictures, and Kathy is wearing a sweater, so it must be around my birthday (in April, still sweater weather in Alaska). I was given them right before Christmas, which is when the other pictures were taken.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Cawter Gets the Cheese

The sky above Juneau was gray and foggy. The ground and the streets and the sidewalks were wet, because it had rained in the night, but by daylight the rain had stopped. There was a delightful cool breeze, and the birds were out in force. Granny was delighted with this day, and at lunch time she took a walk to the State Office Building (the SOB) and took the elevator up to the 8th floor. When Granny got to the 8th floor, she bought a skinny mocha and went out on the patio/roof to sit and look at the channel and the hills and the sky and the boats.

Oh, it was so lovely on the roof top. Granny could see boats in the channel, and for a while she watched the tram cars go up Mt. Roberts. Yeil (which is Tlingit for Raven) was going up, and Chaakh (which means Eagle) was coming down. Granny could see all of the roof tops below her, and on many of them whole flocks of pigeons were gathered. On the roof top where Granny was, there were two girls from the alternative high school eating corn chips and two women from the SOB itself eating their lunch and a small flock of crows. One of the crows was calling "Caw, caw, caw," and so Granny named him Cawter.

Granny sat down to drink her skinny mocha where she could see the crows. A very interesting thing was happening. One of the girls with the corn chips was feeding some chips to the crows. Cawter, who in addition to being the noisiest crow on the roof was also the biggest by an entire ounce or two, rushed in and got many chips. Then one of the two ladies eating her lunch began breaking off pieces of cheese to feed to the crows. Again, Cawter ran in very close to get his. And then Cawter did the most amazing thing! Yes, indeed, he did. When the other crows caught a piece of cheese, they would stop and swallow it. While they were swallowing one piece, two or three other pieces would be thrown and other crows would get them. But Cawter caught a piece of cheese and instead of swallowing it he tucked it toward the back of his beak (but where Granny and the two ladies could still see it) and he caught the very next piece as well. It didn't matter where the lady threw the cheese, Cawter would swoop there and catch it before any other crow could get it. Cawter could hold four pieces of cheese in his beak while he caught the fifth! And when he swallowed the cheese, he could swallow five pieces of cheese almost as fast as the other crows could swallow one.

"Well," thought Granny, "no wonder Cawter is the biggest crow on the roof! What a clever crow he is, indeed. There is no doubt that Cawter will make it through the winter very well, and live long, and gather enough food to feed many babies. Yes, Cawter will father many babies, and raise them all, and the crows in Juneau will be just that much smarter. Evolution at work." And Granny was very satisfied indeed, because she just loves smart creatures so very much

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Hills Are Turning

The clouds lifted today for the first time in several weeks and the alpine meadows on Thunder Mountain have turned gold. It's only a few weeks since the last patches of snow melted, and already we are moving out of summer and into autumn. The days are growing shorter; I no longer climb the stairs when I go up to bed without turning on the lights. Soon I will be turning on the ones on the exterior stairs when I leave for work so that I will be able to see to get the key into the lock when I get home at 5:30. If there were no clouds around, I would be able to see stars at night now for the first time since early May.

It isn't just the grass of the high meadows that are turning. The leaves of the mountain ash are becoming gold and rust, which is breathtaking. The red of the berries hides within the curtain of leaves, adding depth and interest to the color. In the spring, before the new leaves are out, the flocks of chick-a-dees will return and strip the berries from the trees. A moderate sized flock can devour all the berries from a large mountain ash in less than half an hour. I used to have one outside my bedroom window* and one wonderful early spring day Missie and I happened to be at the window when the chick-a-dees invaded. We were both entranced.

There are fewer and fewer bear sightings mentioned in the newspaper these last few days, which means that they are beginning to curl up for their long winter's nap. Soon it will be safe to put out bird feeders** and throw table scraps, French fries, and donut holes onto the patio for the ravens. So different from California autumn, where the harvest is in and the rains come and the hills turn green.

We have had a record breaking summer for rain this year. Very few days without some; I could have used a few more. I don't like several in a row in July and August because it gets too hot for my comfort, but one or two at a time are very nice.

* It has since been taken out because carpenter ants were nesting under its bark and then migrating into the building. It was a beautiful tree, but I can understand the landlady choosing her building over it; there is little income to be had from a mountain ash tree.

** While the bears are awake, that is a $50 fine. Too many bears that have had to be killed because of excessive habituation to human beings have been discovered to have a stomach full of bird seed.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Only Comfort That I Know

I've been wondering all day what I would say. What is there that can be said? There are no words that will take us back to the way things were before The World Trade Center fell. There are no words that will undo the horror of that day or the shame of the years that have followed. Thousands of people, all but the tiniest number of them, totally innocent, are dead. Thousands more are wounded, physically or spiritually. Life will never be the same again. Two countries have been invaded, with no long lasting good and much harm coming out of it so far. The ground in Afghanistan and Iraq is littered with depleted uranium, that our government rained down upon the heads of the civilian populations. There are so many widows and orphans and parents who have lost children where before there were families. The Afghani poppy crop is bigger than ever before and the Taliban is regaining the ground that we left prematurely in order to attack a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. Osama bin Laden is still at large. The Constitution of the United States is under attack from within. Our government has imprisoned people without charges for over five years. And tortured people. And allowed the rape of Muslim women, who were then driven by the conditions of their culture to commit suicide. Our government has felt no shame in sending mostly working class young people to attack brown skinned people who do not worship as we do. That frail, miraculous thing, the human body has been violated and torn apart and destroyed in nightmarish ways. The souls of those who knew and loved those who were lost in the planes, in the towers, on foreign soil are bruised beyond healing. Every wonderful thing that all of those who were lost would have done, all of the books they would have written and diseases they would have cured and jokes they would have told and babies they would have loved and songs they would have sung and gardens they would have tended -- all lost. Lost forever. And the undreamed of babies of the unborn babies and all that they would have added to the wealth of our souls, all lost. No way to reclaim them. No way to know what we have lost. Only that it was precious.

And the only comfort that I know, is to treasure the people that we love, to hold on to the ones who are left.