Habits of the Unwatched Bee

Like many a gardener, my appreciation for insects was transformed when I began spending time around plants. I’m downright proud that so many plants in my yard have bees buzzing around them all day.

My impression has always been that the bees browse and linger over their meals.

But I’ve never tried to photograph them before.

Turns out they move all over the damn place.

My mad plan to photograph bees at a variety of flowers began while out for a walk this morning. A distant neighbor has a spectacular hedge of Matilija poppies (a southern California native plant), which tower ten feet tall, invade for a few weeks each year, then disappear. But I digress.

Anyway, I liked this bee. See it? On the yellow globe center of that Matilija bloom:

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So then I wanted more photos of flowers with bees. I kept my camera/phone ready, but for the rest of my walk, I saw nothing but yards devoid of bees. Why would bees ignore all those flowers? Perhaps those yards use pesticides?

(If only someone would invent something like the internet so I could investigate such questions.)

Back home, there were plenty of bees around my plants but. They. Would. Not. Hold Still.

I took a whole lotta photos and got two that sort of included bees. Can you spot the bee butt near the bottom of this photo?

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Zoom in he’s going to land no, wait, ahhh, there he goes…

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Perhaps my next photo project should involve snails.

(The WP Photo Challenge is Partners.)

Facing the Moon Again

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On the whole, I prefer cats to people and through the years I’ve been lucky to know many amazing felines. Especially Leo.

I lost him last summer. Through at least some fault of my own. He was only 3.

 

 

 

LeoyawnLeo gave his all to everything. He was enthusiastic, eccentric, hilarious. And above all, loving. He adapted, accepted, and enjoyed whatever came his way, to such a remarkable extent that I began to see him as a spiritual guide. He was always purring about something, with a motor that could be heard across a room. He purred when he ate, he purred when you looked at him, he purred as he walked around.

 

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When I scratched the side of his chin, he would invariably lean too deeply into the experience and fall over. At which he’d shake himself and lean just as deeply, again. And again. I don’t know how long he would have kept it up – I always stopped first. During the scratch-lean-fall episode in this photo, he repeatedly slid off the arm of a chair and came back for more, purring all the while. I’m probably the only one who wants to watch this video of a chin scratch session, but you’re welcome to join me…

 

 

 

When we got a rescue dog, all but one of the cats soon figured out that the dog was afraid of cats, and made nefarious use of that knowledge. Leo never got the memo and fled at any sudden movement by the dog (who in turn would flee because Leo made a sudden move). Eventually Leo discovered that dog tails make fun toys and that launched a friendship between those two exceedingly cautious individuals.

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Leo was enormous, standing a head taller than the other cats. He was galumphing yet graceful. One of my favorite things was the way his spine undulated as he strolled.

Another favorite was how he reacted if I tried to hold him. He didn’t like to be held, but he wouldn’t squirm away. Nor would he give in to it. Instead, he would stand stiffly on my chest until I released him.

 

 

 

He’s been gone for nearly a year yet it still hurts to talk about him in past tense.

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Can you spot Leo in this picture? He started life as a tiny feral stray kitten. I’m grateful to the shelter worker who devoted extra hours to handling him, to give him a chance at adoption. The feral kittens don’t often get out of the building.

As Leo grew – and grew – he maintained the view that everything was larger and tougher than he was. Tougher, perhaps was true. Such a gentle and humble nature – not descriptors that often get applied to cats.

 

 

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Leo adored and admired my older cat Luna, who became his mentor in cat behavior. Luna is innately a cool feline dude and he was patient with Leo, but Leo never quite got it. The cool feline thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leo was friendly with all other cats. When I left Missing Cat flyers on doorsteps I heard from more than one neighbor, ‘I used to see him all the time, he hung out with our cat(s).’

 

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It’s safer, of course, for cats to stay indoors, but they’re so much happier outside. So I let them out during the day then locked them in at supper time. Every morning I’d get a knot of anxiety when I opened the cat door, and breathe a thanks when they were safely back inside. But I knew that if they could talk they’d tell me they’d rather live short interesting lives outside; so I honored those preferences. Until recently.

Last summer I was away from home for nearly 3 weeks, on work trips with a vacation sandwiched between. Leo, especially, hated it when my suitcase came out and I left home. I was the only human he had any bond with.

 

A few days into my trip, I got a phone call that Leo had stopped coming inside. He was hanging out down the street but wouldn’t come home.

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When I got the call, I was enjoying a lazy afternoon by my brother and sister-in-law’s pool. The trip took on a taint after that call. I was thousands of miles from home. I’ve rarely felt more helpless.

I love traveling but I am a complete homebody and always get homesick.  When I’m away from home, I use the moon to connect with my absent loved ones. I look up, know I’m seeing the same moon that they are, and with that can better enjoy my time away.

 

On that wretched trip, my last night away there was a gorgeous full moon. That night, like every night since the phone call, I tried to send Leo thought messages while I stared at the moon. Silly, of course, unless it wasn’t. Go home buddy, I’ll be there soon.

When I woke up to catch my pre-dawn flight, I was swept with dread, a certainty that something terrible had happened to Leo.

I’ve got a lot of if onlys.

If only I’d kept the cats locked in the whole time I was away. Sure they would have been miserable and driven my daughter crazy. But.

If only I’d flown home early, right after I got that phone call about Leo. Sure it would have cost lots of money I didn’t have. But based on neighbors’ reports, he was around, people saw him – until right before I got back.

If only I’d paid more attention to numerous indications that the drought was driving more wildlife down from the mountains and into my neighborhood. Once I got back home from my trip, I learned from neighbors that on every block, multiple cats had gone missing of late. Coyote sightings increased from occasionally to daily. I could have realized some of that earlier.

I could have done so many things differently.

If only.

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Our neighborhood is empty of cats now. Some are now forced to be indoor cats, like my unhappy campers. Actually, mine now have a giant dog-run cage thing that lets them go slightly outdoors. One of them thinks the cage is cool, one is indifferent, and one of them thinks it’s a cruel trick.

 

 

 

 

They used to love to hang out on this patio, as Luna and Leo are doing in this photo. Leo was always in one planter or another. He was rough on the plants.

A couple months into Leo’s disappearance, I took down the signs I’d posted around the neighborhood. It wasn’t intentional, my putting them in his favorite planter.

I found myself incapable of trashing the posters. They sat in the planter through the winter. Finally, after the rain ruined them, they no longer felt connected to Leo and I could recycle them.

I don’t know what happened to Leo. No remains have been found. But then that’s how cat disappearances go. Certainly, no one has called about his microchip number. I’ve been searching shelters and Craig’s list ever since; although sporadically now, eleven months later. I’ve been blessed with volunteered help, well-wishes, and miracle reunion stories from numerous wonderful strangers; and I’ve been harassed by  ‘we found your pet’ scams.

Perhaps a coyote didn’t get Leo. But that’s by far the most likely scenario.  Beautiful warm night, full moon, Leo chasing bugs, doesn’t notice the pack until… 

Every damn time I walk outside, I still have a flash instant’s fantasy that he’ll come running up from god-knows-where he’s been.

I hate being outside in my neighborhood at night now, especially when the moon is bright. I need to get my moon-gazing back. It was one of my favorite things about being alive.

I usually honor my animals with memorials when their lives conclude, but I haven’t been able to manage one for Leo. For almost a year, I haven’t been able to look at photos of him and have shied away from my memories.

But I need to get past that. Avoiding memories is worse than losing him. It’s like he never existed, never graced my life at all. Nothing could be more wrong than that.

Leo, your presence in my life was such a gift. I miss you so much.

Hope to see you on the other side.

(Written for WP Weekly Photo Challenges Admiration and Pure.)

DDsE: Easier Except for Being Harder

Back in 2008 or so, when serialized fiction returned to vogue, I decided it wasn’t for me as a reader or a writer. I mean, I don’t even like Dickens, probably the most famous serial writer of all time.

The latest wave of serial authors seemed to publish with little or no editing. No, thanks! I want to read your best – not your first – writing.

Many writers will tell you that editing is the most important part of writing. I’ve always been in that camp. I edit my own novels heavily. This painful tedious work yields little of the satisfaction of writing but almost always improves my drafts.

And yet.

There’s no denying the power of spontaneous ideas, nor the impacts of intuition. All my best ideas materialize, simply and suddenly. Perhaps I tap the unconscious and they rise up. Perhaps they drop from the wild blue. I include countless spontaneous ideas in my novels but I’ve never let them steer a project – until now.

A few months ago, I was miserable about my writing or lack thereof. I’d been editing the second book in the FRAMES series for what felt like forever. Weird about that. Even in rough draft, I knew Book 2, Nica of the New Yorks, was stronger than Book 1 – and I’m quite proud of Book 1, Nica of Los Angeles. Yet Book 2’s editing was interminable. No wonder, when so many pages went like this:

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Edits to a page of Nica of the New Yorks (Frames Book 2)

No matter how many words you change, though, editing doesn’t feel like writing; and as the editing went on, the way I missed writing became as physical as a toothache. But I couldn’t risk starting a new project that might derail or distract me. For the foreseeable future, finishing FRAMES is my main event.

Meanwhile, I became a fan of an amazing improv comedy group, The Improvised Shakespeare Company, which invents 2-hour plays on the fly. Watching those plays inspired me to write more improvisationally. I began writing short bits (about 300 words) daily. For the first time, I wrote without planning or conscious knowledge of the story, characters, themes, format, or genre. Just let it go and see where it takes you.

The writing was joyful and easy at first. But as the installments added up, I realized I liked them. A lot. Then a varied group of beta readers responded with enthusiasm — and the stakes changed. Suddenly the outcome became important. I wanted to stop and plan, I caught myself pausing to ponder. I wasn’t stuck, mind you, but I had begun to fear mis-steps. My conscious mind was trying to regain control, to follow the usual procedures, make a map to a destination.

But I’m not ready to end the experimental wandering. So I’m forcing renewed focus on the journey, not the endpoint. My experiment has become DDsE, a young adult paranormal horror romance. Each installment is a diary entry by Ella, a 16-year-old who despises her life until two mysterious allies enter it: a strange boy with a dangerous family and a feral cat that seems to get inside Ella’s head.

And now I’d better get back to writing DDsE. I’m very concerned about where I left Ella yesterday…

Free Apr 30 only! Speculative Detective Novel

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What’s free?

On Saturday, April 30, Nica of Los Angeles will be free on Amazon (as an ebook).

This is the first book in the FRAMES trilogy of speculative fiction/detective novels.

If you’ve been meaning to read Nica of Los Angeles, now would be an excellent time – book 2 is coming soon.

What’s the book about?

When rookie private eye Nica takes on a mysterious case, she enters a world of multiple dimensions called Frames, where buildings and lawn chairs can be sentient, a stray cat has great powers, books can be killers, and clouds can be spies. At home, Nica tackles missing person cases, while in the larger reality of the Frames she is swept into an escalating battle with stakes that could not be higher…

What do other readers think?

Nica has been blessed with a few dozen extremely positive reader reviews, including this one:

This is a fantastic book. The characters are interesting, the dialog witty and the story straddles the line between strange and believable perfectly. If Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams got together to write a Raymond Chandler-style private eye story, this is what would come out.

 

 

Exotic Infrastructure

There is so much beauty in modern infrastructure. No wonder I take so many pictures of that stuff.

Admittedly, I’m obsessed with subways. I could fill a whole other blog with subway photos and videos. (<– Hmm. Am I the only one who thinks that’s a good idea?) Meanwhile, here’s a recent moody image from NYC:

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This power line runs through my neighborhood (although not precisely at this angle):

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Can you guess what this is?:

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It’s the crumbling (sideways) letters of a storm drain warning. NO DUMPING DRAINS TO OCEAN.

And how about this?:

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Well, if you’ve been a reader of this blog for long, that’s an easy one to answer. It’s part of a pair of decaying sea walls that fascinate me. (Fascination is a kinder word than obsession.) Here’s a wider shot of the same wall (earlier that same sunrise):

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If you ever want to visit this wall, it is just east of East Beach in Santa Barbara, CA.

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge was Abstract.)