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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Why Possum Tracks?

Why Possum Tracks? Well, this is a funny little beast, one of Nature’s abandoned experiments in creature creation. It just appeals to me, perhaps just because I’m nearsighted, a bit untidy, and enjoy rummaging for inspiration and creative sustenance in the small, messy details of life.

A possum leaves odd tracks, especially in snow, because his/her tail drags along behind. Like a Charlie Chaplin bum, a possum’s ungraceful and lumpy, scuffling along like a bundle of untidy, smelly rags. They can hiss and show you rows of teeth (50 in all) if you surprise them, and they can play dead and sincerely hope not to be eaten, but that’s about it in the defensive arena. In fact, they are mostly on the run, hoping to bluff you—or the dog—away, so they can scuttle off to safety.

Cheerfully omnivorous, they chow down on anything, even more so than Fido, who is notoriously unfussy about what he eats. They like insects, but Possums also enjoy fruit—who doesn’t--and will gravitate to apple, persimmon or paw-paw windfalls with delight. They have one particular claim to fame. As the only American marsupial, a family line which still has some survivors in isolated Australia, they are unique.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

air borne
organizing V,
chatty winged
heads South.

One flies contrary,
mate and tribe
lost, alone
but still
ancient lays
to North

B.0.B. Cat

Bob, yes, that’s an acronym. He arrived as a skinny youth, a gray striped tiger with two enormous boy accoutrements carried proudly beneath his tail. He had a very loud, deep voice and a head and chest that were thick, out of proportion to the rest of him. Clearly, here was a young tomcat -- on the lam! I, of course, petted him. He was very friendly. I fervently hoped he had a home.

Then, one day as winter approached, I offered him food. At first he turned it down. He had on a tight, much weathered collar. He began to show up daily for petting, and also to eat what I offered. He drooled as he gobbled down a bowl of dry kibble, and I imagined he’d been recently abandoned—or that whoever had been feeding him had stopped. One day he came to me and put a paw on his collar, clawing. I removed it, and scratched his neck, which obviously felt good. It had been on the verge of choking. Again, I hoped that if he did belong to someone, even marginally, they’d replace the collar, but no one did.

We began to call him B.B., in honor of his sizeable boy parts, ever more notable as he grew. He began to appear, calling loudly, morning and evening, to get his handout. He liked to sit on my lap, too, so I began to huddle on the porch, sitting on the car’s silver sunscreen to keep my butt warm. I started to take my flea comb out and groom him a bit, pinching out the ones I caught, and cleaning his scarred up head. He seemed to like it. Because he was so big and such a tomcat, I was hesitant about handling him—I just let him do what he wanted, which was to curl up on lap and knead for a few minutes after he ate.

We already had 3 indulged indoor cats, and my husband was adamant about “no more,” so B.B. and I got through the winter as well as we could. (Chris keeps my cat collection under control.) I worried about B.B. when it was very cold, and offered water along with the food now, which he would lap thirstily. Still, he walked off every day as though he had places to go and things to do. (The song “Tomcat Strut” came to mind.) As long as he was fed, everything seemed OK, although I did worry when he showed up covered in blood from fighting during the autumn Yy-eowly season. In the depths of the winter, too, he’d show up covered in blood, but with no new wounds I could locate. Then his ribs and belly stuck out and he had no appetite. When I found squirrel tails in the yard, I understood that alone among 40 years of cats, I had concrete proof that B.B. wasn’t afraid to take on our thuggish local “tree rats.”

Cute, squirrels—and don’t get me wrong, there’s almost nothing more adorable than a litter? of babies, practicing their acrobatics, rejoicing in spring and the abundance of food. Yes, and they are smart, too, but just hell on my birdfeeders! I’ve never lived anywhere with such aggressive squirrels. These guys have a look in their eyes that makes me fear they’re planning a mugging. Perhaps it’s that we live in too urban an area for the men to plug them, like they would in the sticks, but we do seem in need of a predator for them.

Well, to return to B.0.B., a dear friend of mine who loves animals kicked in half of the Humane Society’s spay and neuter bill, and we trapped B.B. and took him on the appointed day. He was tested for Feline Leukemia/ peritonitis, given his shots and his life changed—we hoped—when we removed the B.B’s. We brought him home and locked him in a room with box and water, and fed him as he recovered. He seemed happy to be warm and didn’t carry a grudge, as we humans might. What we still didn’t know was if this paws are made for walkin’ guy would stay with us after neutering and gaining entry to our home.

As we suspected, he hasn’t changed his game plan one iota.

We did change his name, though. Now (at least to us,) he’s B. Zero B. or Bob. It seems like a decent name for a large gray cat. Who knows how many other names he has! I put a collar on him with a tag, and that lasted about 2 days, although I did get a phone call from a lady who said she was glad such a nice cat had a home, and that he visited her regularly. I put another collar on him, which lasted even less time, but received a phone call from a second lady who said pretty much the same thing. Who knows how many other benefactors he has?

Oh, B.0.B., you total bum! Even as I write, I’m waiting for you to put in your daily appearance. He’s taken to using our house for a crash pad, appearing when it’s cold, or raining, and calling for “in.” When the door opens, he heads for the food bowl and slams his face into it. Kibble flies in all directions as he eats . The other cats watch him, in awe. Then, after getting some patting—he’s a great leg rubber and has a wonderful purr—he goes to sleep upside down on the couch with his mouth open. He drools, too, especially when he’s happy or getting a chin scratch.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's a Poo-ey Life

(I think this is the permissible way to refer to that thing which every creature leaves behind after digestion. At least, that’s what Mike, the Dirty Jobs guy calls it on T.V., so I’m assuming it’s ok.)

Women should get some kind of reward for this. Of the two sexes, we have the more sensitive sense of smell, yet we get most of the poo jobs. "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice..." --and, ladies, don't forget the poo. Women, as a class, probably move more poo than the average dairy farmer.

Let me just predicate this, however, with the fact I’ve always been Cinderella. My mom didn’t like housework, so as soon as possible, I found myself doing a lot of hers, including scrubbing out the toilets and bathtub. I grew up scrubbing other people’s you-know-what, and although I’m in my sixties now, this business doesn’t show any sign of letting up. In this world, poo is guaranteed.

My husband did his share when we had the diaper people at our house, don’t get me wrong. He had been the oldest child in his family, and was an accomplished baby-sitter, so he knew how to rinse that stinky diaper in the pot, wring it out, and deposit it in the pail, then clean up the baby’s dear little pink bottom so he wouldn’t get a rash. I, however, had been told repeatedly that I was too clumsy to hold a baby, so I’d hardly even held one until I had one of my own to take home from the Boston-Lying in Hospital. Let me tell you, diapers weren’t the only shock which lay in store.

At first, as I was breast feeding, diaper changes weren’t so bad. Hardly any smell at all, just like bread dough that has over-risen. As baby grows and adds more variables to his diet, such as bananas, rice cereal and the occasional cow bottle, this changes, as all parents know. In those days, we hadn’t enough for a washer, so I carried my diapers to the Laundromat, and snuck them into the farthest off machine in the farthest corner. I’d usually do two cycles, add bleach and Dreft, and hope for the best. At home, in all sorts of weather, it was line dried. Sunlight, btw, does a good job on bacteria.

Then came the pets—cats. Another privileged group, who, like babies, have things worked out so that someone else cleans their bathroom. (Guess who!) I was outside today with buckets of hot, soapy water and the potty brush, giving one of the many boxes a scrub down. Clever devils, these pussy cats.

Next came the aged relatives, who also needed help in the potty department. I’ve done a lot of that kind of cleaning up over the years while my mom was in decline. And now, for the grand finale, my husband and I have both had colon re-sections, thanks to cancer. My husband’s surgeon cheerfully dubs his patients members of the “Semi-colon Club.”)

What with colonoscopies etc. in the news, there’s what might be called heightened poo awareness in our society, especially for those of us in our later years. But don’t get me wrong, there's absolutely no way I'm really too upset by all the Mrs. Clean I do. After all, I'm still on the green side of the grass. Let us never loose sight of the fact that where there’s poo there is Life—that much is for certain!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Here, dammit! Eat just a spoonful…

Many small children are picky eaters. Perhaps it’s because their taste buds and tongues are still wide awake and sensitive, before tobacco and Time. It was texture, I think, that was the biggest stumbling block for me—things like lima beans, which were dry and mealy. Sweet potatoes were not only stringy, but “funny” tasting. Of course, in kid logic, the main crime of a sweet potato is that it isn’t a white potato, which was one of the few foods I genuinely liked.

In the late 40’s, we had a lot of canned foods, especially right after the war, when we Americans were lucky to have most of the food in the world. In those days, I ate and enjoyed foods like canned spinach, canned tomatoes and string beans, some of them home made by my industrious grandpa straight out of his garden. These didn’t make my heart sink as I climbed into my chair at supper time. Canned peas, though were feared—just the thought of them, even today, is a serious downer.

My parents were of the “starving Chinese would be glad to have…and just a few spoonfuls” school, so I always had to gag down a little of whatever “abomination” was on my plate. Even peanut butter in those days, pre-hydrogenation, was a challenge because it was so dry and sticky. It tore holes in the store bread, and, unless there was a lot of jelly, I could barely get up enough spit to swallow it.

Canned fruit, heavy with syrup, had the kid seal of approval. I loved foods then I’d never choose to eat today, things like “fruit cocktail,” but only if I could leave the grainy little pear bits behind. Canned peaches were excellent. Today, after familiarity with fresh pineapple, the canned tastes flat and boring, but such treats, in those days, were only for the well-to-do.

I was thinking about this, and the amount of easily consumable food we Americans have available, because nowadays there is hardly anything I won’t eat, even the once dreaded vegetables. Beets--greens and all--parsnips, turnips, kale—they’ve got to be fresh—even the once horrid sweet potato—it’s all grist to the mill nowadays.