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I told you that story to tell you this one, or: my Dad was Indiana Jones.

Back in the 1960s, when the country was busy undergoing rapid social change, my Dad was busy in the summers helping to pay for his undergraduate education by wandering the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico, collecting bats. Not the wooden kind made for striking balls of various varieties, but the mammalian kind, destined for some biology collection at Texas A&M. The stories of his adventures made fantastical bedtime distraction for me when I was a small girl. Parents are often sort of boring to their children, who picture them as never having had any life but the one the children see before them. These stories opened up a whole strange new world, in which my dependable and predictable father had exciting adventures, a world in which I was not even a vague consideration. They were suggestive of the fact that my Dad had a whole life going on before he married my Mom and became my Dad, and that it was a fascinating one.

In these stories, he roamed the jungles with his trusty guide Antonio, collecting bats, getting into scrapes, escaping by cunning and cleverness. He was not my English Professor father, wearing his navy blazer and khaki pants and conservative ties[1], he was Indiana Jones, out for bats instead of artifacts. He collected the bats mostly by shooting them, and he shot bats in culverts under roads, he shot bats in a church, he descended into the mysterious depths of Cueva Leon and didn’t shoot any bats there but nearly suffocated. Cueva Leon, with its hilarious prologue in which he hires two more guides to get there and then the suspenseful midsection, featuring near-suffocation, and finally the climactic ending in which he discovers the secret of Cueva Leon and also escapes alive, was one of my favorites. I asked him to tell it so many times that he finally typed it up for me and told me to read it myself, which I did. In fact, I got my Mom to have it laminated so I could have it forever and ever and read it over and over and over again.[2]

I told you that story so I could tell you this one:

Recently, my Dad sent me a file, written by a gentleman who had been on the bat-collecting expeditions. First this was startling because there was never a mention of anyone but Antonio in Dad’s stories, it was always the two of them adventuring through the steamy jungles, shooting at bats. It had not previously occurred to me that this was a whole party of adventurers shooting at bats; in fact when my Dad referred to the author as his colleague, I thought he was speaking figuratively. And then I got into the part about shooting bats in a church, and thought “Hey, this sounds familiar!” and then there was a whole new story, about being mistaken for missionaries, and finally the gentleman named the members of the party and there was my Dad’s name.

After a second read-through and a little correspondence with Dad, it got even more hilarious. His colleague describes the bat-collecting expedition in the church thusly:
“…three obviously demented giant gringos, one a Viking Amazon with a dirty handkerchief balanced on her head, bare arms, pants, and military-looking boots–garb unlike anything ever seen before on a woman in this untouristed remote region; one a tall skinny guy even taller than the woman and wearing a counterfeit pith helmet and the darkest of dark glasses in this very dark church; a young matinee-idol-like man/boy dressed like Beetle Bailey; and a crazed Mexican, as Maya-faced as the shawled women, but shouting in an alien tongue and wearing shells in bandoliers crossed on his chest like Pancho Villa.”

As it turns out, my Dad was the “young matinee-idol-like man/boy dressed like Beetle Bailey.” Antonio, of course, was the crazed Mexican, and the other two were the author and his wife.

My Dad, the matinee idol. Dad was skeptical of the accuracy of the description, so I asked for photographic corroboration. A couple days ago an envelope arrived, with an old picture scanned and printed onto the page, labeled “Working on a bat. Taken by Antonio. At a small village in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, summer 1962.” Dad’s head is bent over a bat on his leg, a bat which cannot in fact be seen. All you can see is a thick head of short hair (which was long gone by the time he became my Dad), a bit of face viewed from above, and the cigarette that dangles from his lips. On the other hand, you get a sterling look at his clothing, and he is most definitely dressed like Beetle Bailey, only I don’t think Beetle wears a watch.

It’s funny how our parents unfold like origami and become real people as we get older. Children cherish predictability in their parents, but as an adult I find that I cherish the vision of my matinee-idol-like man/boy father, dressed like a dork and wearing combat boots one size too big. Next time I see him, I think I’ll even ask for some more bat stories.

[1] AS HE GOT OLDER, THE TIES GOT LESS CONSERVATIVE. THERE IS PROBABLY SOME KIND OF LESSON IN THIS.

[2] THE OTHER THING HE WROTE FOR ME WHICH I ASKED MOM TO LAMINATE WAS AN EPIC POEM ENTITLED “HOW I GOT RAGS” WHICH DETAILED THE ADVENT OF HIS CAT. IT WAS WRITTEN IN IAMBIC PENTAMETER AND RHYMING COUPLETS, ALL HOMERIC AND STUFF. I WAS NOT BEING FACETIOUS WHEN I CALLED IT “AN EPIC POEM.”

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A breakthrough!

The little tabby finally let me pet her. That’s right, her. Whoops. At any rate, things are going quite well but I am not yet allowed to do anything but stroke her back, so we’re not yet at the “picking her up and bringing her in the house” stage. I do mean to pick up some frontline for her, though, as I think applying it will be similar enough to stroking her back that I can get away with it. It will make bringing her into the house way easier if I don’t have to worry about bug contagion.

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Two Manor Cats

I actually managed to get pics of two of the non-approachable Manor Cats this past week! Go me. They’re both tabby and white toms. ETA: Little Tabby let me get close enough to pet and examine and turns out to be a female. Whoops! Also she’s quite skinny and I suspect wormy, but while I may stroke her back now, I am not allowed to grab her yet. We’re working on it.

The first one is the one I think of as The Patriarch:
An adult cat, tabby with a white underside, lounges regally on his side.  You can tell he's an intact tom by his muscle tone and huge jowly cheeks.

The Patriarch is the most frequent full-grown visitor to my feeding station, and as you can see he hangs around the property a bit, too. His flight distance is about 20′, though, and this picture was taken in the dusk, from behind the fence, from a pretty good ways away, which is why it sucks. He’s OK with me and the dogs looking at him, as long as we don’t come too close.

The second one is Little Tabby TomGirl:
A young tabby and white cat peers over a step at the photographer.

Little Tabby TomGirl is, I suspect, going to be the next one I bring inside, if I can convince himher to come in before disease, predators, or cars get himher. HeShe started with a flight distance of 15-20 feet, but with the judicious and timely application of wet food and treats, I have worked himher down to 6-7′. Even better than that, heshe shows signs of wanting to approach me, but not being quite sure heshe can:
Little Tabby Girl pretends to ignore the photographer entirely and be fascinated with some foliage.
There heshe is doing that thing cats do, where they come to the edge of their comfort zone and then pretend they were about to do something else entirely, like sniff this here blade of grass. HeShe will also sit at the edge of hisher comfort zone and talk to me. Notice the tail up and tall posture, heshe’s dubious but not terrified!

One more, of himher nomming hisher wet food:
In this picture, Little Tabby Girl would quite clearly like the strange lady to stop moving around with the box on her face, and let her nom her wet food in peace.

Fingers crossed that I can get Little Tabby Tom in before something gets himher. HeShe so clearly wants to come up to me, wandering at that 6′ circle like heshe’s rubbing on something other than air, making blinky eyes at me, talking in hisher little voice. It’s so hard to be patient, but I’m trying.

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You think you know somebody….

One of the reasons I cherish my dogs is that just when I think I know how they work, inside and out, and that I can predict their behavior consistently, they serve me up a surprise and it’s a 50/50 chance that it will be a pleasant one.

For instance, Tink. She’s been with me since she was 9 weeks old, I raised her and I train her and live with her and take her walkies and wrestle her for the pillows at night. Around 18 months or two years old, she started having hysterical barking meltdowns if she saw a dog who looked unfamiliar to her. This may have had something to do with her sucky vision, it may have been her hitting maturity, who knows. We worked the “Look at that dog!” game from Control Unleashed religiously, and that got us to the point where her hysterical barking meltdowns were manageable although still embarrassing, but at least I could distract her and get her out of the situation if I my vigilance failed so hard we got into a situation in the first place.

So for the past three, three and a half years, I have been watching for other dogs and fleeing if I saw one, and hopefully I saw it before Tink did. It was just one of those things, you know. Everyone you love has certain quirks that irritate the shit out of you but aren’t going to change, so you just learn to deal with them and view them as an integral part of the person you love, one that maybe you would rather do without but not if it meant doing without that person entirely.

Today, Tink and I went up to Chatham, where the 28th Massachusetts, Company B was having a Camp of Instruction, as was the Fredericksburg battlefield’s Washington Artillery unit. We wandered around some and then I saw two gentlemen with three collies between them, headed our way. I spotted them before Tink did and thought “Oh shit, better move out” so we walked away from the 28MA’s encampment toward the Washington Artillery, which was down a grassy road. Tactical error on my part, because after a few minutes, here came the collies, and this time they were between us and escape. Whoops.

I called to them when they were a ways away and said “She’s going to bark when she sees you, she’s mostly blind and nervous about strange dogs!” and backed us off the road so they could get by. Tink gruffed once when she noticed them, but… I said “Shhhh, it’s OK.” and she believed me and settled down. When they got up to us, one of the gentlemen asked if the dogs could sniff noses, and I said “Sure, if she’s all right with it” and said “Tink, you can say hi” and Tink proceeded forward confidently toward three strange dogs who were radically different from any dogs she has spent time with before, and she sniffed their noses and butts. She said a very polite hello without gruffing or having hysterics or anything, just some maneuvering to keep from being surrounded by the three of them, as dogs will do.

One of the collies, the oldest to judge by the grey on his face, was also mostly blind. She spent the longest time greeting him, the two of them carefully sniffing each other, inch by inch, from nose to tail, all totally relaxed and “hey I do this all the time” which may have been true in the collie’s case. For Tink, though, it was a first and I kept waiting for it to break out into barking, especially when one of the younger collies had a good excited bark at a jogger, but it never did. The dogs said hi to each other, and when they were done they ignored each other.

I almost wanted to cry. Maybe Tink’s life can be much less circumscribed now, if we can go places where there will be other dogs without having a loud and embarassing temper tantrum. I’ll have to try it again sometime to be sure, but things are looking good right now. Today was one of those good surprises, one of those moments when I realize all over again that dogs are not static pieces of furniture, but living, changing, marvelously doggy beings with inner lives of their own.

Good dog, Tink. That’ll do.

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One of those days…

I have spent a good chunk of the day arguing with FedEx, who by the way is so totally useless it’s absolutely amazing they manage to stay in business but anyhow. What with one thing and another, I forgot to buy dog food on the way home. Which I discovered when I tried to feed the dogs at 1730. Whoops.

Time to improvise! Luckily I had two chunks of rabbit from Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow[1] in the freezer, so there were Beowulf and Zille taken care of. Rabbit, however, gives Tink the runs and I have been negligent in ordering other chunks of raw animal. But poking around in the fridge, I did find two little filet mignon my Dad had sent along with Mom last time she came up.

Well, I couldn’t let Tink go hungry, now could I? So yes. Tink had two little filet mignons for dinner, still frozen, and a raw marrow bone from Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow while the other two got their big chunks of rabbit. And hopefully tomorrow I will remember to stop and buy dog food. But since I was thinking about it, I’ve just ordered more rabbit, meaty beef bones, and turkey necks and turkey chunks for emergency dog food or those times I need to buy myself some Good Dog Time.

I’d say I fail as a dog owner, but they’re getting chickenrice for breakfast, which they love, and they thought rabbit and steak made a FANTASTIC meal tonight. So I guess it’s a win, really.

[1] HARE TODAY DOES NOT PAY ME FOR PRODUCT PLACEMENT NO MATTER WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE! I JUST LOVE THEM THAT MUCH. THEY HAVE GREAT PRODUCTS AND AMAZING CUSTOMER SERVICE. I’VE BEEN BUYING ROO’S FOOD FROM THEM SINCE HE WENT TOOTHLESS BECAUSE YOU CAN GET A VARIETY OF GROUND MEATS FROM THEM WITH BONE AND ORGAN ALREADY IN THEM, SO HE CAN HAVE A BALANCED DIET EVEN WITH NO TEETH. IF YOU’RE IN THE US AND LOOKING FOR A RAW FOOD SUPPLIER, SERIOUSLY, LOOK NO FURTHER.

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Another happy ending

I didn’t make it to Appomattox today, sadly. I have however gotten some stuff done around the house, including playing with my shiny new toy letterpress setup, but that’s not the real news.

The real news is that SpareKitty has made it to her new home safely. The last update from her new person’s Twitter: “Home! She’s actually *thrilled* with her new, huge, room–ALL for her. She’s run around it and marked everything as HERS, Fuck Off!”

I was sad to let her go but definitely happy she’s gone to a good person and a good home, and she will be safe and warm and have her kittens somewhere I won’t have to worry about keeping newly mobile kittylings away from very large, very inquisitive dogs. It’s a good feeling all around, and I can’t wait to hear about her babies.

So far that makes the score Andrea 3, Forces Of Chaos Contributing To Keep Sweet Cats Who Find Andrea Homeless: 0.

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Kitty is traveling tonight on a plane. I can see the red tail lights…

Although she’s not headed for Spain. In about an hour, Spare Kitty MC03F and I will depart for Dulles to meet up with her new owner. He is a kind-hearted soul and also possibly just as much of a nutbar about critters as I am, given that he is flying in around 1800 and departs around 2200 with his new kitty, who will hopefully not give birth en route to her new home.

It’s bittersweet because on the one hand I know she’s going to a great home where she will get the best of care and I won’t have to rehome her kittens, but on the other I have of course become attached to her (it doesn’t take me long) and I will miss out on kittens.

She’s put on a little weight while she’s here and I swear gotten bigger, not just more massively pregnant. Her coat feels better, and even massively pregnant she’s willing to play a little bit. Her litter box habits have been impeccable, and she auto-purrs if you touch her. She’s really a fantastic kitty, and I will miss her a bunch. But I know in the end I can’t keep every friendly cat who comes asking for shelter. I’m just glad this one has found a good and safe place to go and have her kittens.

Keep your fingers crossed, meanwhile, that her trip to her new home goes well. I’m sending her off with a harness and leash, some toys, some treats, her food, a towel, and some puppy pads in case she has a desperate moment in her carrier.

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Six Word Stories

Six word stories are just that: stories, told in six words exactly. No more, no fewer. Here’s how this all started. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it involves Hemingway, and not being fond of his works I am inclined to agree that his six word story is the best ever.

At any rate, my contributions to the genre, or “My Evening: A Multi-Volume Work”

Vol. 1
No time for the ball: homework.

Vol 2
Whining does not get you fed.

Vol 3
No, really, it does not work.

Vol 4
Whiney cat for sale, dirt cheap.

Vol 5
Silence is purchased with cat food.

Vol 6
Time to throw the Chuckit Squirrel.

Vol 7
Stop barking at the neighbor children.

Vol 8
Fine, they are obnoxious. Bark more.

Vol 9
You had dinner. No more food.

Vol 10
Still no kittens, fingers are crossed.

Vol 11
That is my bed, lazy dogs.

Vol 12
Lazy dogs for sale, dirt cheap.

Vol 13
Buy now and get free cat.

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Come squee with me, baby trees edition

The weather has been pretty good for baby trees lately. While I’m worried about the persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) that I planted, and the red mulberry (Morus rubra) that I planted last year is almost certainly dead, the baby pawpaws? They are growing like gangbusters. Also thriving are the trash pines (I really need to thin them) and the sassafras is doing spectactularly this year, for reals.

The main reason I have pawpaws is, let’s face it, the fact that when I was a wee girlchild my grandmother used to sing me a song:
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!

Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!

It’s got the same tune as “Ten Little Indians” and it’s the sort of repetitive song that little kids like to sing endlessly to drive their parents nuts but for me it is warm fuzzy memories of getting to spend the night with my grandmother.

And now, I have a pawpaw patch:
A shot of a clear space, with some tall oak trees in the near background.  There may, if you squint just right, be some saplings in there that are pawpaws.

All right, fine, they’re not huge yet, so here are some individual pictures. Please keep in mind that healthy leaves on a pawpaw look all floppy and wilted.
One:
A baby pawpaw tree, slightly out of focus and maybe 18 inches tall, but even with the poor photography you can see it is bravely putting out leaves and growing its little heart out.

Two:
This baby pawpaw tree, about a foot tall, is a straight stick crowned with a little clump of longish, floppy green leaves.  It looks like the tree equivalent of a muppet.

Three:
This baby pawpaw tree is shot from above and arches up toward the camera.  It is pretending to be a dead stick, but if you look down near the ground you can see it has put out two branches with brave little leaves on them.
That’s the one I planted last year, and it looks as if it’s opting for the “shrub” version of pawpaw growth patterns. I’m OK with that, just as long as it doesn’t die.

Then there’s the baby sassafras trees, which I deeply adore as their little leaf clusters look like green rose buds. Also you never know what kind of leaves you’re going to get from a sassafras tree, they come in solid, “mitten”, and trefoil shapes, often in the same leaf cluster. If you happen to bruise their leaves (which I try not to do on the babies) then the sweet smell of root beer wafts into the air. Before the link between safrole (the aromatic oil the tree produces) and liver cancer was discovered (although it is disputed by some), the roots of the sassafras tree where what gave Root Beer its name.

Here’s leaf clusters that haven’t opened yet, plus flowers, on an adult sassafras tree (only adult trees think about grown-up tree things like flowers):
A collection of branches against the sky.  The branches are studded with what look like green rosebuds, about 2 inches high and tightly furled.  At the base of these clusters are rings of little non-descript flowers.

Here’s a baby with just a single leaf cluster that’s just starting to open:
A leaf cluster, shot from above.  The center is still tightly furled into the faux-rosebud, but four leaves have opened enough to see that they're all the solid kind, shaped like an almond, sort of.

Here’s a slightly older baby sassafras, unfurling its leaves. You can see all three types of leaf in this particular cluster:
A cluster of six sassafras leaves.  The three outermost are all solid.  Two of the innermost are trefoil, with a largeish central point and two smaller points, one on each side.  The other inner leaf is a mitten shape, but you can't really tell because the photographer got a crappy angle.

Oh there we go, the photographer got her act together.  This is the same cluster of leaves, this time shot from above so you can see the mitten-shaped leaf more clearly.

Finally, I could not resist this gang of juvenile sassafras trees, all hanging out together. They’re probably skipping school or something:
Four adolescent sassafras trees hang out together.  They look, if it is possible for trees to have an expression, as if they are up to something shifty.

There’s a saying in the south, used to refer to land exhausted by farming or other maltreatment: too poor to grow sassafras. Sassafras grows anywhere, and is often the first tree to move in when land is clear-cut. If your land is too poor to grow sassafras, you are in deep trouble. So it gives me a little thrill to see that the back acre, though damaged and blighted, is at least not too poor to grow sassafras. Get on with your bad selves, little trees.

Oh and because a) I can’t possibly walk around my massive 2.5 acre property without a bodyguard and b) she needs the practice standing still while I take pictures, Zille came along. I think she had fun.
Zille, a sable German Shedder, smiles into the camera with bright eyes, ears up, and lolling tongue.

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Decisions, Decisions

The 145th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox is coming up this weekend. I can’t make it on Saturday because I have class in the morning, then in the evening I will be taking the spare kitty to the airport (provided she still hasn’t given birth, so far so good). So I’ll be going down on Sunday and hanging out for about half the day.

The question is, which dog do I take with me? My choices are Tink or Zille.

Reasons to take Tink: Handles crowds of people well, including re-enactors. Is not terribly bothered by gunfire. Knows the ropes as far as keeping the leash slack while I pause to take pictures, and standing still being quiet and respectful during remembrance ceremonies. Is my best buddy. Will stand at the side door staring pathetically out after me and Zille if I don’t take her.

Reasons not to take Tink: Has hysterical barking meltdowns at the sight of other dogs who do not resemble dogs she already knows, which means if they don’t look like a German Shedder or a Doberman, she’s going to have a fit. Pulls on the leash while walking. Will attempt to mug re-enactors for food since one once gave her a piece of beef jerky out of his haversack TWO YEARS AGO. Refuses to poop on leash unless she feels she has a sufficiently large audience, bonus points if I have forgotten to carry poop bags. Joints are iffy and she may not be able to handle a 4-hour trip with lots of walking without being ouchie later.

Reasons to take Zille: Great leash manners. Does not have hysterical barking meltdowns at the sight of other dogs, although she might quietly gruff at one who looks really funny to her (like Corgis). In fact, the only thing she will have a hysterical meltdown about is me leaving the house with Tink and not taking her, too. Since she is not mostly blind, will not require as much vigilance on my part to keep people from sneaking up on her blind side and startling her. She will be the Emergency Backup Dog for Sesquicentennial Madness and thus needs the training.

Reasons not to take Zille: Crowds make her a little nervous, and she doesn’t have as much experience with gunfire, so I will have to concentrate on her at times I would rather be listening to historians or watching guns fire. Occasionally pulls on the leash while I’m trying to take pictures. Being a dog of obviously high quality, will attract more attention than Tink and require me to answer more dog questions when I would rather be chatting with historians and re-enactors. Gets car-sick.

Taking both is unfortunately not an option since I want to be able to take pictures. Hrm. I may just flip a coin Sunday morning.