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Tuesday, March 31, 2015



The morning before I was to leave for a trip I opened the garden shed door to get sunflower seeds for the waiting hungry birds only to encounter a big black cat curled up in the kitty bed kept there for vagabond critters.  I expected the ratty looking feline to bolt from the shed, but he didn't.  After blocking his escape route I called the vet who said I could bring the tattered cat in if I could get there before noon.  

Luck was on my side.  A can of smelly tuna fish tucked inside a carrier drew the wayward visitor obligingly into the trap.  He was a mess.  One eye bulged from his head, purple and red and painful-looking.  His shoulders bore battle scars fresh and old and he was thin as a pretzel.  At the vet I explained my predicament (being gone for a week and having a new critter sitter unequipped to care for a compromised animal) and so arrangements were made for Henry (as he was spontaneously-named) to get the medical works!  Neuter, shots, tests, wormed and all injuries treated followed by a luxurious week of spa-type lodging.  I didn't allow myself to consider what this was going to cost.  I was leaving at 5:00 am the next day for Nebraska.

When I phoned the vet mid-week to check on Henry's condition the receptionist said he was "the nicest cat" and that his appetite was "remarkable."  I brought him home the following Friday.  As this portrait illustrates, Henry is still very ragged looking, but in the ensuing days Mr. Henry revealed his true identity: He is actually the infamous Owen Meany!

Owen Meany, so named because of his belligerent nasty behavior is the feral cat who had terrorized all other felines on the road during the past year and who had avoided all efforts to trap the thug. Beating up cats whose food he coveted, Owen was abhorred from one end of the road to the other.  What caused his transformation from rebel without a cause to "the nicest cat" is a mystery.  Maybe he just got tired or he realized that life with one eye was going to present challenges previously unknown.  Anyway, Henry aka Owen Meany's week at the ‘spa' increased his value from $-0.00 to $232.00. 

I'm sure that as time passes without altercations his tattered ears will mend and while it's doubtful that fur will ever cover his scars, his coat and general fitness will improve.  No longer is he interested in being a trouble-maker.  He's claimed the garden shed as home, suns himself on the roof of the tractor shed and is trying hard to endear himself to poor old Rattycat.  They do share similar past lives.... 

It wasn't as if I wanted, nor needed seven cats, but ignoring or turning away the former hooligan was out of the question.  I had no choice but to welcome Henry to my small country life.


4:29 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, March 28, 2015



The sad saga of my dear old neighbor Kenny grows ever worse and more worrisome with each event.  What I didn't know the night the police chief and I collected Kenny from a distant town was that earlier that day he had fallen and couldn't get up.  He was helped up by the farmer who leases his land and who had just happened to stop by.  It must have been embarassing for such a private man like Kenny which may explain why he immediately got into his truck and drove right through a building on the property.  After his truck was pulled from the gaping hole he drove off to places unknown until the chief and I retrieved him.

A few days later someone reported his rambling bovine were heading for a major highway.  Apparently there were also complaints by grass Nazis about hoof prints on lawns.  The cattle were ultimately driven back home and confined to the barn.  That day marked the end of their free-ranging lifestyle.

Facts about just how the cattle were trucked away and sold are vague and unexplained, but from what I have gathered, Kenny wasn't part of the deal.  He came down to my house the following day to deliver a pile of moldy newspapers and a bit of junk mail he thought I might need (for what?), but I think he really just wanted to talk to someone. 

"Well, my cows are all gone now," he said.  He didn't bother to wipe away the single clear drop that clung to the very tip of his nose.  He's grown a beard this winter and with his multi-layers of tattered shirts and jackets he could easily be mistaken for a homeless person.  In fact, that's probably just how he feels-homeless.  He's always had cows.  Now he has nothing but a cat which he feeds chittlins and dog food.

I expressed my surprise and we stood in the chilly air and he told me about the trip he took to a ‘healer' in Pennsylvania years ago.  "I've never been anywhere in my life but Pennsylvania and Montana," he admitted. It's hard to imagine him getting on a plane and flying to Montana where he says he knew no one, but wanted to see the country.  He must have been a very young man when he undertook that adventure.  He's 89 now and if he makes it to June he will mark nine decades of life on the farm up the road.

Two nights ago neighbors Sandy and Butch (the couple who recently lost their barn and animals to fire) saw flames at Kenny's place as they were driving up the road.  They turned down his long lane to find him watching as the blazing field eating away at the tall grasses raced toward the house.  The infamous red truck sat next to the house and the fire was within six inches of the truck.  Butch began stomping out the flames and ever-inventive Sandy opened the back of the truck to find bottles of milk and grape juice which she used to douse the embers.

"My cows are gone," was all he said to them.

I am angry.  There will never be photos like this again, taken when he was happy.  Now he's devestated, but it all could have been avoided.  This old man could have kept the cows that mattered to him, even if in a strange way, if the community had  come together one afternoon and erect some fencing instead of complaining about hoof prints on lawns.  I don't think the fire was an accident.  I think sadness and hopelessness inspired Kenny to strike that match.  What's left to lose now that his cows are gone?  


6:40 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, March 18, 2015



Ernie went to the vet today for a second opinion on his worrisome cough.  As we sat in the waiting room, Ernie with his ‘hope-I-don't-have-to-get-a-shot' look on his silly face and me making small talk with the receptionist the door opened and I knew the couple entering was facing one of the worst days of their lives.

The woman was weeping helplessly.  The man's eyes were red, but he was trying his best to be brave.  With them was the unsuspecting subject of their visit.  The old chocolate lab stumbled in and collapsed next to her sad owners.  The woman wept harder as the man filled out the required paper.  It was déjà vu.

Although more than two years have passed since that horrid day that I signed the paper authorizing the vet to release Ted from his incurable pancreatic cancer, it felt like it was only yesterday.  My heart broke for the strangers weeping across from me.  The old dog tentatively wagged her tail, not sure why this visit to the vet was different from others, but I think she knew.

I moved to the chair next to the inconsolable owner and put my arm around her shoulder.  I told her I knew exactly how she was feeling.  She wept harder, leaned down and caressed the old dogs face.  The exam room door opened and Ernie was beckoned.  My own eyes were filled with tears. The vet said the lab was more than fourteen years old; a long life for that breed, but losing such an old friend only makes the pain more intense. 

Ernie was examined and pronounced in good shape.  His cough is due to his anatomy and his excess weight.  "He could stand to lose a good twenty pounds," said the vet.  Yes, he certainly could, but that will be easier said than done.  Our visit was over and the only other patient was the doomed lab with her grieving owners.  As we left the office I again offered my condolences, but there really aren't adequate words of comfort.  I know how empty their home will be tonight.  I know the quiet sadness.  

Driving home I passed the cemetery where my family is buried.  I never go there to visit their graves as some people do.  I did go once and it felt wrong standing at a place where stone monuments mark the empty shells of former life. I wondered why the deaths of my mother, father and uncle don't evoke the same grief and pain that the deaths of pets like Ted do.  I think it's because Nature decides when humans leave this world, but we who love our animals more than we love ourselves too often must sign that paper as the ultimate act of our love.  Tonight I'm sad thinking about the strangers I met at the vet today.



5:19 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, March 15, 2015



And the fog was thicker than pea soup as the police chief and I drove into the distant city's parking lot where Kenny was sitting in his truck with the driver's door open and two officers stood chatting with our old friend. He was offering them something to eat from a bag on the seat next to him.  The benign expression so typical on Kenny's face changed to one of utter surprise when he saw the chief and me approaching.

"What are you two doing here," he asked.

"We came to give you a ride home," said the chief.

"And I'm going to drive your truck home for you," I continued.

"Aw, you don't have to do that.  I think I could probably drive," he said.  And so the night's adventure began.

When the chief called last Tuesday evening to tell me Kenny had been picked up by the cops in a town about an hour north of here. I offered to go along to drive his truck home and even then knew it was going to be a night to remember.

No sane person was on the road other than the big 18-wheelers that had no choice in the matter. It just wasn't a night to be out and about, so we could only wonder how Kenny happened to be where we were heading.  The officers had found him "driving erratically" and said he seemed confused.  After finding out where he lived, they had called the chief.  As it turned out Kenny was looking for "the bread store...," and had apparently made a wrong turn.  He was about 55 miles off course.

The chief put him in the cruiser.  The local officers again politely declined the snack Kenny was offering them. What looked like dog kibble and banana chips was actually chittlins, but no one seemed in the mood for soul food.

I knew the truck cluttered, but never guessed just how cluttered. I literally couldn't fit in the driver's seat.  The chittlins shared space with dozens of cans of assorted fruits and vegetables, old packages of cheese, wet newspapers, green beans that someone had frozen last year, bottles of herbs and vitamins, countless empty jugs and jars and hundreds more unidentifiable things.  One of the officers brought a trash bag and we filled it to make room for me, but it scarcely made a dent in the rubble. 

The cruiser with the chief and his passenger set off into the fog and I followed in the truck that was stuck in 4-WD and had a dashboard cluttered with nearly a foot of ‘stuff' that rendered the defroster useless.  I drove with the window open and cleared a spot on the windshield with a pair of socks gleaned from the clutter and tried to ignore the smells that pervaded the cab.  The fog had thickened and visibility was only about ten feet when at last we pulled down the long lane to Kenny's farm. The night was as black as the inside of one of his free-range cows.

With each of us holding one of Kenny's thin arms we headed toward the porch, sidestepping cow patties that dotted the icy yard.  Our old friend was happy to finally be home, but his joy was short-lived when he discovered the door was locked from the inside. It was 11:15 pm.

We all three breathed a big sigh of relief when Kenny produced a key to the outside cellar door. The chief's flashlight cut a beam through the blackness as we descended into a tomb-like space with no electricity.  When our mission was accomplished and Kenny was safely inside his warm house, he bade us goodnight.

It was a night to remember.




4:50 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, March 7, 2015



When I bought this old farm in 1987 the barn was literally filled with junk. In some places it nearly reached the rafters.  Most of it was trashed or burned, but among the debris were a few odd tools which despite their compromised conditions I kept.  One such tool was this pick axe.  In all these years I have never used it, but have moved it from the barn to the garden shed to the tractor shed because some little voice said, "You might need this one day...."  Today was the day.

Yes, the weather this winter has been miserable for any number of reasons and yes, we all rejoiced when the thermometer went above freezing one day last week, but the celebration was premature.  The little bit of snow and ice that melted only formed pools which quickly refroze, thus creating new and unexpected places to slip or fall.  One of these pools was directly in front of the garden shed.  An inch of ice sealed the door like a tomb making it impossible to open even a tiny crack.

Beyond the obvious garden tools in the shed, recycle bins, ice-melt salt, cat food, bird seed and ear corn are all housed in that little building.  I'd already fed the wild birds breakfast cereal, bread and rolled oats, but they knew that behind the green door was a big bag of sunflower seeds and other good stuff and they wanted it.  On the kitchen counter aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles and junk mail were piling up.  I couldn't force myself to put them in the trash destined for a landfill.  And what about critters that might visit the shed nightly for some cat food?  Surely the bowl was now empty.  I had to get that door open!

What a bit of luck the pick axe was still in the corner of the tractor shed, patiently waiting to be put to use after all these decades.  After applying a sleeve of that household staple Duct Tape, it worked like a charm!  Just 15 minutes of pecking away at the icy barrier and the shed door opened.  I almost cried.  Who would think that such a silly accomplishment could bring such joy, happiness and gratitude!  And so, wherever you are Mister F. (former tenant and donor of aforementioned trash), a great big ‘THANK YOU.'  Life is good.

1:25 pm est          Comments

Monday, March 2, 2015


I really am trying, but it's hard to convince myself that things will ever be green again.

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9:05 pm est          Comments

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