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.)

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The Only Cat in the World

I lost a dear friend today.

Our cat Bop always wanted to be the only cat. Probably only cat in the world, certainly in the household. Those other cats were irksome; unnecessary. She spent a decade demonstrating why she was superior to the rest of her breed. She helped with paperwork:

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She critiqued my writing:

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She kept her spine supple, the better to chase other cats:

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She practiced the art of fine sleeping:

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She lived for thrills. We had an aggressive rabbit, Cookie, who would attack any cat that dared go near her cage. Yet, whenever Cookie went out in the yard, Bop would hang out in the forbidden zone:

Bop grew up to disdain other animals, with one exception. She enjoyed our rabbit Cookie, a bold and aggressive rescue bunny. Bop loved to hang out in Cookie's cage. An extreme sport. Cookie would have killed anybody (not an exaggeration) she caught in her cage.

Bop was smart and affectionate, and friendly with humans. She tolerated the dog. When I walked the dog she would start the walk with us, and run to meet us when we returned. She devoted much of her life to the thankless, Sisyphean task of eradicating other cats from the neighborhood. She mostly but grudgingly got along with our cat Luna, who joined the household from the same shelter on the same day:

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I didn’t want to bring Bop home. She was homely, mangy, and her stomach was distended with worms. When my daughter tried to cuddle her at the shelter, Bop took a clawing flying leap over my daughter’s shoulder and shot away. We caught up to her three rooms distant. My son persuaded us to choose Bop because of her lively personality. Lively became over-the-top! She also became quite sleek and beautiful when she got healthy.

Time has done its flying thing. The girl who holds kitten Bop in that last picture is now applying to med schools. The boy, holding kitten Luna, becomes a father next spring (and along the way, grew several inches taller than his sister).

Luna grew up to be friendly to all other cats. Average Luna with Bop and you get a normal cat.

Big problems arose a couple years ago, when we adopted three new shelter kittens, Bo, Leo, and Arrow:

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As they got older, Luna became fast friends with them. Here he is with Leo, who became enormous:

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Bop hated the kittens and attacked with intent to kill. We were expecting trouble from her, but not so violent nor so persistent. We had to isolate the kittens for many months. When Leo and Bo got bigger, they stood up to her attacks, so – like any bully – she backed off. She still liked to hide behind doors to ambush them, but when she sprang out they would flatten and hiss and the incident would be over. The third kitten, Arrow, remained terrified, which inspired Bop to continue to chase and harass Arrow.

We always wondered whether Arrow and Bop knew how much they looked alike. Here is Arrow (reacting to Bop):

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Here is what Arrow saw (Bop, acting tough):

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Until recently, even the other kittens couldn’t tell Bop from Arrow. We put a bell on Bop for a while, to help distinguish her, but she kept escaping the collars. Too smart for us. Mistaken identities led to many double-takes and ill-chosen encounters. Arrow would run up to play with the other kittens and they would flee, mistaking her for Bop, leaving her with the feline equivalent of a WTF expression. Conversely, enemy Bop would appear and Bo and Leo would run toward her, mistaking her for their buddy Arrow. Bop would hiss or lunge, demonstrating their mistake, and they would flee, looking confused.

A few months ago, the vet said that Bop – only 11.5 years old – had terminal cancer and a few months to live. We all figured that Bop the contrarian would survive for years. After all, Cookie the rabbit did that after a similar diagnosis, and they were kindred spirits.

But that isn’t how it turned out.

Over the last several weeks, as Bop grew sicker, the young cats grew bolder, bringing a ding dong the witch is dead atmosphere to the household. One day, even Arrow felt comfortable nosing around Bop’s special sleeping areas. It made me cry – it was a proof of how sick Bop had become.

Today was Bop’s last day, and it was a tough one, although it concluded with a tribute of a moon that reminded me of Bop’s ultra-white and densely black fur:

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I loved the underside of Bop’s front paws. On one paw, she had all white toes, with one black exception in the middle. On the other paw, she had the opposite coloring.

Bop, you didn’t need to be the only cat to stand out. You were a difficult animal – my difficult animal – and I’ll miss you every day.

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge is Gone but Not Forgotten.)

Transformation by Moonlight

I have always been a cat person, but these last few years, here I am with a dog. My kids knew the right buttons to push. If we didn’t take Shadow she was going to the shelter. Right away. Next week. And she was too old to be adopted, once there. I said we could take her until we found a home for her. I’m sure you can finish this part of the story without me.

Waiting for the next walk.

Waiting for the next walk.

Shadow has been in the family for about 5 years now. She is either 7 or 12, depending on which murky version of her past is correct. All my experience is with cats, and rabbits, who are a lot like cats, except in two dimensions – they don’t usually go high above the ground.

Dogs are not like cats. Shadow doesn’t want to think for herself. She wants me to tell her what to do. I want her to figure it out for herself. Not sure how long it might take to re-train me about this.

Shadow is a sweet soul who had difficult early years. It was before my time with her, but some effects are permanent. She has fly-strike bald patches on her ears (indicating neglect, the vet says), she is afraid of young children and petite women (abuse, we speculate), and she is unpredictably psycho around other dogs. She might be friendly, she might attack. She can switch from one attitude to the other in an instant.

I walk her twice a day, and sometimes she will lunge at a dog who barks behind a fence, with such force I am lucky to remain standing. She knows the lunges are forbidden but sometimes she can’t resist. No doubt my lack of dog savvy contributes to the problem. My aging joints are getting more brittle and someday I may have to stop walking her to avoid these jolts.

During a walk I am quite willing to reverse direction, or take her to stand on the far side of a parked car, when another dog and walker appear. Neighbors who have friendly dogs are oblivious, or amused by this. Neighbors with kindred dogs have similar tactics. There was one night when I stood behind a car forever, waiting for the other dog to walk by, then finally looked out at the same time as the other dogwalker – who had moved behind a car across the street, waiting for me to walk by!

I know all the routes that let me see whether another dog is coming around the bend, I know all the streets that are wide enough to let dogs pass by without incident. And I know the times of day when the streets will be heavy with dogs, or empty of them.

One benefit of psycho dog walking syndrome is that I have discovered the pleasures of a dog walk by moonlight on a summer night. When all the other dogs are inside for the night, Shadow becomes a lovely walking companion. When I can be comfortable strolling in shorts and sleeveless top around about midnight – that makes the daytime heat worthwhile. And when the moon is bright enough to cast shadows, magic ensues. Usually the shadow images aren’t dense or defined enough to show up well in my photographs. But one night recently, they were.

The photos below show the moon-shadows of a tree and a chicken-wire fence on a yellow garage door, transformed from mundane to mysterious. The dog was reasonably patient about my stopping to take the photos. There are things we need to accept about each other on walks. I stop to take pictures. She stops to sniff every frigging molecule in the universe. (One of us is more accepting than the other.)

Anyway, here are the photos:

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The WP Weekly Photo Challenge was Summer Lovin’.

The Ah in Normahl Life

Conference hotel bathroom. Instead of keeping the paper towels stocked, some minimum wage worker had to keep these folded and stacked, all day long.

Conference hotel bathroom. Some minimum wage worker kept these folded and stacked, all day long. Isn’t that just like a day job?

My last several weeks have been absurdly hectic, with long hours preparing for big to-dos at the day job. The deadlines and the events are now past, everything went well, I’m enjoying kudos for my efforts — and I’m trying to not resent the time I had to squander on mere work, the time I’ll never get back to do the things that matter: hang with my kids and my friends and the four-legs, visit the ocean or mountains, write my new book, promote my newly finished book, post to this blog.

During that time, I had to toss my tickets to two different concerts because I was too busy or tired to attend. That is a lot of alliteration and so wrong!

Ah. At last I’m home again. You know you’ve been gone too much when you look forward to sweeping the tumbleweeds of shed dog fur, new clumps of which are repopulating my living room even as I type this. So. Much. Fur. How can she not be bald yet?

Ah. Time to take a few lessons from folks who know how to relax:

 

Shadow and Luna, lounging

Whatever your species, the morning sun feels good.

Sna-ap! Crack! Russstle…. Repeat!

In my yard, Spring is a time of great destruction. All manner of flying insects flit by to tease the cats. The insects escape into foliage, the cats go after them. Typically, the insects escape harm but the foliage does not.

I’m saying cats but the main culprit seems to be Leo, an excessively large feline:

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Only great Dog knows what poor small creature Leo stalks here.

Leo’s personality spans the range between goofball and doofus. Except when an insect is nearby, he is the quintessential gentle giant:

Leo in foreground, another possible plant-murdering suspect, Arrow, behind him. Not yet trampled poppy in foreground.

Leo displaying his most common approach to life: jus’ chillin’. Not yet trampled poppy in foreground.

The other day I saw him body slam a sage to nab a grasshopper. The grasshopper popped away, and Leo shot through several feet of leaves in futile pursuit. He left behind a sage with snapped branches and a hole in its greenery:

Memorize the damage to this sage. You will soon be asked to tap this memory.

Memorize the damage to this sage. You will soon be asked to tap this memory.

Hmmm, thought I, recalling the backyard wisteria. It is mostly dense lush green, now that it has finished blooming:

It is like a cave inside this thick wisteria.

It is like a cave inside this thick wisteria.

However, there is one hole, with snapped limbs:

Does this remind you of any damaged plant you have recently viewed?

Does this remind you of any damaged plant you have recently viewed?

I had previously assumed that a bear had somehow entered my backyard and fallen into the wisteria, because several thick sturdy limbs are broken:

Bear(?) damage to the wisteria.

Bear(?) damage to the wisteria.

However, after the incident with the sage, Leo has become the prime suspect in the wisteria attack.

As always, even if he confesses, punishment will be out of the question. He is just too cute. Here he is cuddling with Luna:

If there exists a cuter cat picture, please comment me the link!

If there exists a cuter cat picture, please comment me the link!

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge wants to see “Spring.

Home Is Where The Thoughts Stay

What I see this morning as I write this.

What I see this morning as I write this.

I love meeting new places, and so I am excited to be heading out for a week of work-related travel; however, there’s a part of me that never wants to leave home, and thus I must always shove myself out the door.

There is nothing special about my house. It’s a tiny, nondescript box. I’m always behind with my housework and yard work and I no longer pretend that I intend to catch up. It would be charitable to call the furniture antiques. At one time I had lots of Nice Stuff but multiple moves, kids, pets, and my waning interest in Stuff have all taken a toll.

But of course, that’s not what matters.

Home is where my kids grew up (when we stopped moving around), and where they stay when they need a place to. Home is where we marked their growth spurts on the wall, and now have a funny paint job as we paint around but never over those growth marks.

Home is where the cats and the dog reside, usually doing something goofy. This morning, two of the cats did some play-fighting in the backyard, on opposite sides of a tree trunk. They rose up like bears and batted at each other left right left right but mostly hit the tree trunk.

Home is where I sit on a patio and write novels, and blog posts, while listening to the morning birds or the evening freeway traffic, which really can sound like the ocean.

Home is where I get to choose my changes, or have that illusion. Home is where I can dress however I please, except maybe when a kid walks in out of the bright afternoon sun with a friend and I’m still in my jammies. Home is where I ignore the phone’s ring if that’s what I feel like doing.

Home is where I recharge, revive, restore, and become ready to go back out in the world.

The curious thing is that home is so portable. I have had many homes – big, small, fancy, plain – and they all have the same effect. A house is a building, a home is the state of mind.