Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Real Story

The kitten was maybe 2 weeks old, at the outside--her blue eyes were just opening to view the world in all of its glory.
She was solid black with a tiny white spot on her tiny neck. Her hands were big--I wondered who her father was... the big black tom with ripped ears and a neck like a lineman? Her fur wasn't sleek or shiny, quite the opposite, it was dull from the lack of care. Her mother had been scared off 4 days ago when the neighbor's dog found the mama cat's nest in the pile of debris beside her house. The same dog I've chased down the street with a baby cotton tail in her mouth; the same dog I've chastised for several springs about hurting baby rabbits. This time the dog killed the other litter mates and left this one because she had been interrupted.
The wound the dog left on this kitten may not have proved to be fatal if it had been noticed 4 days ago. Apparently a nice sized chunk was taken from the hind leg. Since the kitten was so young, the wound infected quickly and by the time I looked at her this afternoon, maggots were busily eating through to her stomach cavity.
I held the kitten as I sped to the vet's office, driving with my knees. I couldn't allow her last moments alive to be the inside of a shoe box in darkness. She smelled septic. Her cries were weak but still she cried--for her mother, for her siblings, for life. She quieted when I spoke gently to her and rested one paw on my fingertip while her chin rested on my hand. I rested my lips on top of her wild fur, smelling deeply past the infection to the world in which she was born--earth, grasses, limbs from trees, brush, wind, rain, sunshine, warmth from her mother, cat milk and kitten purrs... a lot has happened in the last two weeks around here and her fur told the story, one I could vaguely decipher.
We were ushered back into a room as soon as I walked into the vet's office. I told of her declining situation and that I needed to make sure that euthanasia was the right choice, so we waited for Ann.
The first thing Ann noticed when she walked in was the kitten's mouth partially open to breathe--I had been praying that the kitten would peacefully leave before anything else happened and I could see the kitten's breaths come slower and the clicking in her lungs that I could hear signaled to me that the end was near. Just not near enough. Then the kitten's grey gums--a sure sign of shock and a host of other things that aren't conducive to well being.
Ann spoke of how the kitten was nestled in my hands knowing that she was being taken care of and loved even if it was just for a short time. That's when I began to cry. It was little comfort to be complimented for being kind.
I showed Ann the wound and she jumped back in shock--there was no way the kitten could live through a wound as septic as the one she had with as many maggots that infested the kitten's little body.
So I said one last prayer and kissed the kitten's head as Ann carried the kitten away. She assured me that the kitten wouldn't feel any pain any longer.
I left crying.

For several days I've been thinking of writing a eulogy for the cedar tree and others that were mown down earlier last week. The mower came early one morning and I had to be at the opposite side of the house so I couldn't hear the destruction of life. Grassy clumps that have (and could still be) housed jack rabbits, cotton tails, and numerous birds were being eliminated without a thought. I had the boys canvas the lot before the mower could start to scare anyone that was currently living in the area. They reported mama cottontail ran.
I walked the lot after the mowing, looking for any injured or dead bodies. I found nothing but the agave Brent had planted last fall had been mown. I replanted the pup that grew nearby and put limbs around it in case they came mowing again. They left the trunk of the cedar but the arms and limbs they carried a little ways off, left to die, cedar scent on the air. I saw they took a buckthorn with the cedar tree... and the young mesquite and native mimosa we've talked of years of transplanting to our side. The huge drift of horehound is gone as are the random colonies of prickly pear.
Within all of the loss, the wrens have brought their family to raid the downed branches for bugs and so have the mockers. I have seen the mocker kids scramble through the limbs chasing after one of the parent mockers. So, within that death, there is life--even new life.
I am saddened that the tree will not longer afford safe hiding for newbord fawns. I can't count the number of fawns that have been bedded in the protection of that huge cedar. Many wrens have eaten well and courted successfully within the arms of that tree. Hummingbirds have rested by the handsfull in the heat of summer. Kingbirds have fought over the invisible territory lines that crisscross this area. Mourning dove and white wing dove have dived through the branches of that tree, fleeing from a sharp shinned hawk bent on dove for a meal.
I promise to remember that cedar's life of service, no matter the bad publicity its kind receives. I know the real story.

Monday, July 25, 2005


Watering the gardens in the 103 heat, I water in the orange esperanza and a waft of sweetness passes over me. Where does it come from? I look at the rain filled clouds coming this way and try to descern the direction of the wind, then follow the breezes backward towards the scent. Faintly sweet, definitely a presence, I wondered who is thinking of me.
I have always subscribed to a fragrance reminding me of someone, or perhaps it's a silent message to me that someone is thinking of me.
Who would this be thinking of me--it's an oddly sweet but antique fragrance, full of depth, possibly some form of sweet water scent, like right after a rain; of antique lace doilies that you sometimes find in good flea markets or in someone's elder relative's home... beautiful cotton tatting in short waves, connecting to one another, darkened only slightly by time and loving admiring hands...
Brent's departed grandmother Amelia? She has always remained close since she left almost 10 years ago. Now that we have her amoire I feel she is a constant part of the family--I look into the mirror on the front of the piece of furniture and while I am taller than the mirror, I try to imagine her tiny self, all 4' 2", dressed for the day, a special occaision, or a walk out to her roses in the back yard. I only knew her towards the end of her magnificent life but wish I knew her stories of coming to this continent at 15, alone, leaving her family in Poland, and eventually establishing her family here. Without her, there'd be no family of my own.
I continue to water the esperanza, the red crepe myrtle still in full bloom, and on to the daisies that I transplanted from the west side of the house. They've begun to settle in though are laying around as if the all day full sun and heat have done them in. I tell them to get used to it and quit complaining. They are full sun plants and their counterparts in the fenced garden are something to see, standing proud and blooming tall.... then I find many seedlings of the ever present echinacea plant that is a full 4' tall this year. She is definitely statuesque and doesn't realize her height will warrant a mid winter move to the back of the garden, to replace the white salvia behind her, making room for something oh so exciting--I don't know what that would be right now, but I never lack for plants in the spring.
The rain is coming, drops are now falling intermittantly and the wind is picking up. I roll the hose onto itself and rush to the front yard to grab the towel for laundry, barely making it to the front door before getting soaked.
Later, after the rain has passed, I walk out back and grab the black cohosh in its own container in the prickly garden and much to my amazement, there is the scent--the kidneywood is in full bloom, sharing her scent and happiness. She is flowered at the end of every single branch and I am not her only admirer--the bees are out in force foraging and stealthly attending to each minute flower.
I inhale deeply and remember my first introduction to her--I was working at a nursery in Austin, barely pregnant with Niles, and the store had received a shipment of plants. Another coworker and I made a display right up front of the blooming kidneywood. I swore then and there that when I was able, I would make sure to make sure to include her in my future gardens.
And now I have 2. The deer used to browse her to the bones before all of the dogs, and now that we have what some would consider a pack, the deer rarely approach the yard.
The kidneywood beside the back porch isn't blooming as well as the one in the eastern garden. Seems she's pouting for some reason--could be the rampant peach looking plant that's using her as an arbor.
This morning, after the rains, the fledged wrens are calling for family out back, the fledged mocker kids are still begging from mama, and the cardinal males is a red flash of brightness in the dark green oak leaves.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Early Staging

Coming home this afternoon, trying to beat the rain, we encountered a huge family event. On the telephone lines above the driveway, Niles and I counted at least 52 martins. Males, females, juvys, fledglings... everyone was excited about the rainfall and were busily preening and talking. It was incredible.

Looking out back, at least 5 more martins were perched on the house with several more flying about. Both babies had their heads sticking out watching and listening to all of the activity. Walking out just now to try and get a picture of them I found their apartment empty--hence the huge family reunion. They had fledged.

I have noticed every milestone this little family has had is finalized with huge familial support. Their first attempts at a family were met with disaster. I found burst eggs in the garden twice--the starlings were particularly vicious and finaly left the second time I pulled their nests from the apartments. I yanked the sparrow nests too (much to the delight of the dogs) but chose to let them rebuild as the martins didn't seem to be bothered by their overachieving nestbuilding.

I knew when the first nestling hatched as the extended family appeared one morning and circled the martin house for half an hour then disappeared. A week later, the same thing--25 martins circling the martin house making a huge racket. I could only sumrise the thought of a celebration as that seemed to be the only time they would visit.

And now they've come and gone, another milestone in the life of a martin. I wish I had kept better tabs on incubation etc... but I figure the professionals have done that.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Evening Watering

Everything in the gardens looks wilted--the comfrey in the front gardens was nothing but a heap of dark brown leaves with great wilted stalks that used to support clusters and falls of the lightest pink belled flowers. I'm very happy though that the st john's wort has decided that the alkaline soil here isn't truly all that bad and green leaves are beginning to develop to replace the chlorotic yellow ones from early spring.
I noticed everything looked weakened and scanned the gardens--the butterfly weed were both (yellow and orange) wilted; the mexican firebush were both wilted and the crepe myrtle, trying to bloom lavendar, decided that flowering without enough water was a waste of energy and therefore pulled back on the blooming.
I scanned the rosemary that never seems bothered by anything--cold or heat, and my eyes settled on the olive tree. My mother's day gift from 4? 5? years ago, it is now a hearty 7' tall and full of grey oval leaves. Loads of branches arching downward. Drought tolerant. The dogs have dug a depression on the east side of the trunk and try as I might by raking the dislodged dirt back into the indention and watering it in, they always seem to be able to dig it out again before I can re-rake.
Just then, a pair of bewick's wrens land on the chain link fence giving me time to see in the western setting sun, spider webs that inhabited the diamonds of the chain link. As they called to me I recognized the voice of a youngster and an adult--mother and daughter? They both descended to the dirt and proceeded to take dirt baths, sweeping the sand up and over their back with their wings. They continued their conversation even as I strained to watch through the ornamental grass between us. They would find tiny depressions--a dog's footprint in the sand--their little bellies fitting just right inside. They made tiny dust devils that dissapated almost instantly.
Forrest dragged one of the wading pools to the far side of the fence and I filled it partially for the critters to drink from. I know it will be several days before the deer and others feel safe enough to drink from it but know in the end it will be a special place to watch early in the mornings to see who visits.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


The bluebird landed on a dead oak snag and rested. Larger than what I expected, I kept watch even though conversation flowed. A family 'check in', I was visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousins on my way home.
I couldn't see his back for a positive ID, but his red breast and white underbelly could be seen. I'd seen bluebirds before but only in passing on my way out to the sanctuary.
Soon he flew to another snag and I was able to see his blue jacket--amazing. I didn't know bluebirds lived there near dad and I am excited to know they do.
Meanwhile, red tail hawk called from up high and I knew it was time to go.
Lillie and I said our goodbyes and left the family as we had found them--resting under the oak trees on a warm hill country afternoon, relaxing and enjoying each other's company. I love that I was able to be a part of that, even for just a minute.


After the bats, I watered the gardens. Out back, the martins watched as I watered. Careful watchful black shining eyes. They have little ones, or at least one, and I've noticed that every once in awhile as many as 15 show up and stage around the house--landing on top, flying around, generally making enough noise to get my attention inside. I'm thinking they come around everytime a baby hatches. These are congratulatory fly-bys. It's not often and has only happened now 4 times. I am not brave enough to disrupt the family to bring the poles down and take a look inside. They deserve their privacy. I have seen the parents bringing bugs in and leaving with fecal sacs though so something is indeed going on.
Watering the west side gardens, I notice something move on the outside of the fence and there is mama cottontail. She has moved just enough to catch my eye--when she sees that I see her, she sits watching me. Even when I move closer, she sits. I wonder of her message and try to quiet my head in order to hear. She is ever so still and even against the green grasses that tower over her, she blends. It never ceases to amaze me that brown animals can blend with green flora.
She is calming to me as I realize I am actually procrastinating packing and getting ready to leave. I water the beauty berry and walk away--she never moves and even the dogs that jump at me never see her.
Later on, out front, right before I leave, I show Forrest what plants need attention that day. We are bending over a fence looking at a lovely day lily when I hear martins coming from the west side of the house. Wondering what's being said, I look up in time to see them chasing the resident cooper's hawk right over head. He lower than the roof of the house but above our heads. I gasp. He looks like a winged ghost--his back and wings look grey--the color of weathered cypress. No wonder he can hunt through trees with little problem.
The martins escort him eastward and their cries fade.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Sunrise Bats

This morning I was actually outside as the sun was rising. A little past 6am, I'm usually only up this early to roll over and get more sleep. If only!
This morning found me on the east side of the driveway. Bats! Several were circling the neighbor's yard. No dogs begging for pats and just the cats slightly touching my legs as they passed making me think I was getting eaten alive by bugs. I could focus!
Bats!!! Several were near, jetting in circles, then, as I looked towards the treeline (horizon), I could see more and more of the tiny winged mammals, over the trees, zooming but staying together.... I counted a dozen easily. I continued to watch, wondering if anyone else was seeing them too, wondering if anyone else did see them, would they be in as much awe as me?

With as much grief as people put themselves through and each other for that matter, making life hard and confusing and sometimes I just shrug my shoulders with the enormity of it all--kids, friends, neighbors, aquaintances, family, obligations, desires, dreams.... so much.

Then I see grace in action and the inner noise is quietened and I am able to hear and see again... today it was bats, yesterday it was the tiny black and red caterpillar on the driveway looking for someplace that was not concrete; the day before, the martins had a party and the thrashers are building on to their nest for another brood..... it's all out there.

Thank you for bats.