Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Return to the Familiar

Upon entering the field I felt unease. At that time in my life I had an overabundance of time off and spent some of that hiking in the mountains and foothills of the Huachucas. That day I was stalking deer. I carried a camera, not a gun. I had pursued this hobby semi-successfully for a year. My first attempt, called in a buck to within twenty feet, but I waited too long to trip the shutter, and the shy thing darted away like a silent flash of lightning. It comes as a wake-up call to see a creature move so swiftly, and makes us look like the distant, decadent relations of the animal world we truly are.

Upon entering the field there is a mental adjustment to be made. We have neatly parted the world of man from the world of creepy, crawly nature. There is their world and then there is ours; theirs and ours and seldom does the twain meet. I estimate that you would need to spend a good half of your time in the field, camping, hunting, hiking to really feel one with nature. My life-style came nowhere close to that; I spent at very best only a dozen hours a week in "the field." But, the field is an inadequate phrase to mark the separation between man and nature.

A better way would be to describe the uncertainty and trepidation one feels upon entering “the field.” I left my truck parked on the side of a dirt road and with only a camera and a canteen, proceeded to walk through the dry, high grasses, toward the scrub oak of the foothills. Dryness is a constant with southern Arizona and even after fifty plus years it's still a wonder to me that anything can survive here much less thrive. My feet felt unnatural on the irregular ground. I walked far enough to thoroughly hide from me the sight of my vehicle, and stopped in a dry “stream” bed. I knew I'd have to wait quite a while to let the echo of my arrival to settle, as if with the dust that rose in my truck's wake. I had torn the peace of nature. It takes time for peace to be restored.

So, I sat me down in a comfortable spot and shortly, my tailbone proceeded to hurt. I shifted to hurt some other part. It isn’t the physical adjustment that is difficult, but rather it’s the mental. My mind felt out of sync with all about me. While I knew the names of the things and understood them through that human lens, the labels that I applied to these bits and pieces of nature were insufficient. I knew I needed time to adapt to them. And so I sat.

I felt restless, disturbed and unnatural. I felt as if my mere presence in spite of my absolute silence was sending out waves, perturbing all about me. All would align with time; I just needed to give it time. The thing that disturbed me most was the seeming infinitude of minute details in virtually everything I cast my gaze upon. There was the sand in the dry stream bed, the grasses, and the minutia of an oak branch’s bark; there was layer upon layer of details suggestive of Rocco ornamentation. Unnerved and trying to adjust, I closed my eyes for a while and saw in the blackness behind my closed lids a grainy swarm of motes reminiscent of the scene I was evading. I opened my lids and found my gaze settled on an insect wing lying at my feet.



I lifted it and held it to the light. Again there was the blizzard of details assaulting my eyes. Holding it close, I turned the delicate thing in my fingers allowing it to catch the light from different angles and finally in such a way that it threw interference fringes of many colors. It would exist for a brief while, an artifact of some flying insect, the remnant of some decayed life, and then it too would crumble into an infinitude if even finer details of dust.

I relaxed, and I adjusted, and I aligned myself with nature at last. I tooted on my game call and waited for the deer to stroll near. Waiting and waiting, I sat and sat, until I could sit still no longer as the day was closing. By now, all seemed natural and every leaf on every twig and every twig on every branch was in its place; the order of nature was at last, natural.

After many hours of this I was done, and so I lifted myself and proceeded to my vehicle. My feet seemed to fall with a new grace, and the grasses snapping under foot had a natural tone. My truck patiently waited on the road, its blueness unreal among the browns and grays of the surrounding field. It appeared odd and odder still as I drew closer, until at a stones throw I stopped and looked in wonder and awe at this familiar artifact from my life that appeared, now, disturbingly unfamiliar and very unnatural.

It was an early Ford Bronco of the metal box and functional breed. It was powder blue with a cream top, white wheels and jet black tires. The windshield and windows were absolutely flat and unnaturally pure and transparent. Its appearance halted me in my tracks. I stood looking at the thing with trepidation. It appeared very unfamiliar, weirdly toy-like and outlandish. Slowly I approached it as if it was a wild creature, as if my movement might startle it and send it fleeing. The paint was pure and its surfaces unblemished and unnaturally, predictably shaped. There was none of the blizzard of details found in “nature”. What I saw was as unnatural as unnatural could be.

Nearly laughing at its toy-like appearance, I looked closely into the light blue surface and wondered at its pureness. In it I saw, superimposed, a swarm of transparent and transient tadpole like images of the details I had previously found so disturbing in the bark of the tree branches. It was as if my mind was straining to find details in the hyper-simplicity of the unblemished surface before my eyes. The glass was even more transcending. I could see through it! And stranger still were, on its surface, the reflections of the sky, the mountains, and the field about.

Opening the door, I climbed into the contraption and closed it behind me with a resounding, clang! The early Broncos had little in the way of sound dampening. I had heard that sound a thousand times before but now it seemed very weird. Sitting in the driver’s seat, I gazed in wonder at the interior and again with wonder through the surface of the glass. What was once familiar now seemed foreign. Attempting to re-adjust to this new old-reality I began to giggle at its preposterous existence. I asked myself, "If this thing could be, then what next could be brought into being?"

My hand reached out and turned the key and the machine buzzed to life disturbing the universe with its metallically pure pulsing, clanking regularity. I placed my hands on the steering wheel and dared myself to drive this “thing” under the influence of my near hallucinatory state of mind. I engaged the first gear and it lurched to life and proceeded to bounce along the washboard road. I giggled and grinned and laughed and slowly adjusted…slowly but surely returned… to the normalcy of… the familiar.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Freddy

As I sped past, I spotted Freddy lying on the side of the road. I knew I wanted him at first sight. So I quickly pulled off and performed a double U-ey. Fortunately highway traffic was sparse. I backed up to him and stepped to the rear of the truck, lowered the tailgate, threw the tarp to one side and turned to admire Freddy. He lay there in all his glory…a youngish, coyote. Struck by a vehicle, a bone protruded from his rib cage, his jaw askew, eyes half closed; he was young and still. I put on my gloves, grabbed him by the hind legs and pulled him from the ground. He was still fresh; there was no sickening sound of gore-glued hide pulling away and exposing a hollowed out torso full of maggots. I was thankful.

I pulled Freddy toward the back of my pickup, placed one knee, then the other on the tailgate and stood up, still holding his hind legs. As I was doing so a city cop pulled up behind me with his lights flashing. I was so thankful he did not apply his siren. Continuing with my task I heaved Freddy into the bed of the truck, and stood there making sure to keep my hands in unsuspicious,  predictable places as the officer exited the vehicle. “Sir! What do you have there?“

I’d met him a month before in town when I blew my horn at him for not being aggressive enough in performing a left-hand turn onto the highway. “Coyote…them’s good eat’n!“, I tried my best to play to the groundlings.

“You can’t stop here sir!”, the cop explained. “Didn’t you see the signs back there? ’No parking within 80 feet of the road.’ ”

“Yeah, sure, always wondered what those were all about so I stopped to take a closer look at’m.“

This cop was aggressive. Every time I saw him he had someone pulled over. Typically he drove a dark blue unmarked police vehicle and he worked it hard. He had given me a warning for using my horn earlier. He looked not too longingly at the coyote I had harvested and ask, “What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m going to mount him. Take him home, let the maggots eat their fill and then clean 'im up, glue the bones back together and mount him…ya know…put him on display.”

He looked amused, “OK,…fine…just understand you can’t be stopping here.” I knew there was really no problem; he just wanted to make contact with a “normal” person.

“Sure I understand, I just wish people would stop hitting these guys and luring me into stopping for 'em. Next week it’ll be a havelina. Trouble is, those pigs are stinky from the get-go.” I stepped off the truck bed.

“So, you’re going to mount him?” he sounded incredulous.

“Yeah, and put him into a real-life crouch with a kangaroo-rat as the target.” I was dreaming big now.

“OK sir, good luck...be careful pulling out.” he advised as he returned to his cruiser.

I quickly gave Freddy a respectful tarp covering and pulled onto the road. As I gained speed another coyote crossed the highway a few hundred yards ahead. “Oh, wow! Wouldn't it be great to have a pair?”

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Am the Bear-Man

Bear-man! Bear-man! cried out the little boy sitting in the back of his mother’s shopping cart. Despite the darkness of the parking lot, the child had correctly identified me as the "bear-man." Yes, I am, in fact, the "bear-man." But the boy’s mother had no clue what her son meant. He gesticulated toward me as if beckoning me to come to him. “What are you saying“, I heard her quiz him? But I knew what he meant. So I approached . “I know what he’s saying,” I said, then I turned to the her boy, perhaps three at most, and said emphatically, “I am the bear-man!” The boy cooed and gripped the handle bar of the shopping cart. I turned to his mother and explained. “I believe he goes to the nursery school at the corner of Lomita and Grand Avenue in El Segundo.” She was truly puzzled, “Yes, how did you know?”

I explained, “Your boy and I met a several weeks ago, when I donated a giant stuffed Panda Bear to the school.” I walked into their nap room and found a sea of babies, perhaps forty in all, asleep on their mats, side beside side, watched over by a half dozen care-givers. In a nutshell, they were too perfectly cute. Sleep seemed to permeate the air, all fast asleep, with one exception...this one boy…hers…who stood gripping a long, low plastic fence. He quickly burbled over with joy at my appearance with the giant stuffed toy...this fantastic new thing that I had introduced into his world. His eyes shone with a liquid, dark excitement; he cooed, and burbled, and rocked the fence excitedly. I placed the panda on a heap of similar, but less significant, stuffed toys and departed. Some weeks later I happened to meet one of the caregivers, and she related how much the boy adores the panda and how he rushes immediately to it upon arriving at the school.

It’s remarkable that in the darkness of a parking lot, and over a distance of thirty yards, and several weeks time, he could recognize me. But then there is only one person like me in his world; I am the one, and I am the only “Bear-Man.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why Cat-Men are Better Companions for Women than Dog-Men

There are men who prefer cats, and men who prefer dogs. I 'm of the opinion that such a bias will shape the relations between a man and a woman, and furthermore, that cat-men (men who’s sympathies lie with cats) make better companions for women than do dog-men. Here is my reasoning:

1) Cat-men learn to gently stroke their cats, while dog-men learn to fondle their dogs. Which would a woman prefer, being gently stroked or fondled?

2) Cats are elusive and mysterious and make little attempt to adapt their behavior to yours so a cat-man has spent many hours observing and wondering about his cat companion's behavior and in the end he will happily accepts as fact that the cat is not totally at his command; so too with his woman consort.

3) Dogs are the sycophantic glad-handers of the pet world. Cats, on the other hand, can take you or leave you and if they had a middle finger they would let remind you...frequently. As a result, a cat-man will not expect his female companion to fawn upon him and be constantly at his beck-and-call.

4) A cat’s coat is soft while a dog’s is rather hard so a dog would rather be patted. So, a cat-man is more likely to apply a soft touch out of habit. And really, how many women enjoy being patted or having a finger inserted in their ear?

5) Cats make high-pitched sounds much like an infant’s cry. Consequently, a cat-man is more in tune to the sounds of a distressed infant and will notice the sound and accept the sound of a crying infant without as much distress.

6) Many dog-men select an expensive purebred dog simply so they can put it on a leash and parade it to induce envy in others. Do women really wish to be treated as trophies? Cat-men, on the other hand, are far less likely to search out a particular breed and readily accept a Heinz-57 variety of cat; they just want love.

7) Cats must be gently coaxed into doing new things while dogs must be restrained from doing whatever they want to do. Hence, a cat-man is relieved when a woman takes the lead while a dog-man may feel a woman needs to be restrained. Which would a woman prefer, a Cat-man who gives his approval of her behavior or a dog-man who feels the need to collar her?

Zappa

I met my dog Zappa purely by chance. As I pulled up to an  intersection of two major roads outside of Dead Stick, Arizona, I saw her on the roadside looking frantically at passing motorists. She appeared to be anxiously hoping her family would stop and pick her up. I feared she might dart out onto the highway and so I stopped and approached her. She looked at me with nervous-hopefulness; I assumed her to be abandoned and approached her with hopeful-nervousness. People here have the foolish idea that it's better to dump a dog in the desert and hope it will be be taken in than to take it to an animal shelter. Coyotes swarm the area and a domestic dog is hardly a match for one and is no match for two; they keep the place thoroughly cleaned of "stray" pets.

She was a young female German Shepherd of medium build and trimmed ears. She had on no collar. I took off my belt and applied it as a leash and led her back to the truck. The other tasks of the day were put to one side as I drove her to town and deliver her to the animal shelter. The town’s shelter denied responsibility as I had found her outside the city limits. They directed me to the county shelter another seven miles off. And so I drove her there.

She was nervous at first, but the ride in the truck calmed her and by the time we arrived, she was positively grinning. I described her to the animal control people, one of whom stepped outside to have a look and declared, “That’s a mighty pretty dog you have there.” I looked at her, and she at me; it was then I realized how utterly stupid it was to deliver such a beautiful creature to a shelter. I could keep her at home while I ran an ad in the local paper to find her owner. And if no one claimed her…well then…I had a dog.

So I took her home, and ran the ad for a week, knowing it would not be answered. And, in all honesty, whoever dumped her didn't  deserve to have her back. I anointed her Zappa, and introduced her to my two Rhode Island Red chickens, Gabriella and Henrietta. Zappa adopted the chickens as pets of her own and positively fawned on them. The chickens would wander as one about the yard and the dog would follow closely behind, with a big grin on her face, nearly stepping on their tails. She liked to see them move. If they sat down she would nudge them to get them to move about. On one occasion, I saw the chickens squat and refuse to move anymore. Zappa wanted to see more action and in her frustration picked one up by the neck. The result was much squawking from the offended hen. I scolded her and she promptly dropped the bird. The poor bird, very upset and possibly bruised, came running to me squawking in a hoarse voice as if to level some inarticulate complaint against the rough handling she had just received. I gave the hen a little stroking and sent her on her way.

As with all dogs she loved a ride in the truck. While passing through town we pulled up to a red light. As I waited I adjusted my center view mirror. In the mirror was a cop car. Zappa turned to me with a grin and reached out with her nose to sniff the scent I had left on the mirror. As she did, she accidentally nudged the mirror causing it to go askew. “No! Don’t mess with the mirror!”, I scolded and I readjusted the mirror. I could see the cop grinning. I turned to look at Zappa, she grinned and reached out with her nose and again nudged the mirror throwing it off even more. “Nooo!! Don’t mess the mirror!!”, I sputtered in exasperation. I gave her nose a playful swipe with one finger. At this point, was really grinning, and so too was the cop. Zappa’s grin widened to include her back molars. Now she understood how the game was played. Again, she reached out and bumped the mirror. This time the mirror jumped off its mount and fell to the floor of the truck. “Noooooo!!! Don’t mess with the mirror!!!”, I howled setting the parking brake, I scrabbled about on the truck’s floor for the mirror. I replaced the mirror and witnessed the cop shaking uncontrollably with laughter.

Zappa was a home body. I had no fence around the house at that time. The first instance I drove away without her, she attempted to follow. I led her back by the collar and explained as best I could in my inarticulate people-speak that she was to remain on guard and take good care of her chickens. It took only one lesson for her to catch on and from that day forth she remained faithfully in place. I built her a nice dog house and she was gracious enough to share it with her chickens during the day. They had a house of their own for use at night, but enjoyed napping in the dog house beside Zappa. The three together was too beautiful a sight to forget. Regrettably I did not take a photo.

The end came in a very stupid way, when I came home to find one of the hens ripped to pieces. The other hen, in her terror had stuffed her head into a small bush. Her rump protruded for all the world to see, but as her head was hidden and her eyes closed, in the simple mind of a chicken that was sufficient for her to think she was invisible. I accused Zappa of killing the chicken. I thought perhaps she had tried to pick up the hen and the hen in its panic had squirmed and fluffed up its feathers in the dog’s mouth. The feeling and scent of a bird struggling in a dog’s mouth is enough to awaken in most any dog the most primal urges and I assumed Zappa had gone off the deep end and ripped the hen to pieces accidentally-on-purpose. I scolded her, I railed at her, and I threw the carcass at her and made her look at it as I left it there in front of her house. She looked sheepish, confused and hurt. And I declared I could not have a chicken killing dog in my life and resolved to give her away.

How perfectly stupid. First of all there was no fence around the property and I had seen a pack of dogs from one of the neighbors pass by the house on occasion. In addition, how could I have equated that beautiful, obedient, intelligent dog with a hen? I could get another chick for a dollar and I could have kept them separated by bit of cheap fence. There was no comparison. Nevertheless, I placed an ad and found a new home for Zappa within a few days. She happily boarded her new family’s vehicle. I watched to see if she would turn around to look at me as she was driven away, but a dog is a very adaptable creature and I didn’t deserve any better than to be ignored. In an instant, she had a new family to protect. I wonder if she every thinks about that insane man who railed at her for failing to protect her hen from a pack of roaming dogs. Giving her away was the dumbest thing I’ve done in ages.

Lunatic Time

Sometime around 1990 I was listening to radio KPFK based in Santa Monica California. KPFK is a member of the Pacifica Radio Network, a for the most part left of left-liberal voice of the “loyal” opposition. I don’t recall the particular radio program but the host had invited onto the show a person who claimed to have the inside scoop on the goings on in Nicaragua. At that time the Sandinistas held power and were being challenged by the Contras in irregular combat. The guest supposedly knew all about the CIA involvement in the conflict, and was laying out the "facts", when for some unknown reason he suddenly went off the rails and began expounding on how the CIA had infiltrated the Veterans Administration Dentistry Department and when veterans came in to have their teeth worked on, the agents would proceed to implant radio receivers in their teeth and then wire those up to the emotion center of the patients' brains. That’s right, you heard correctly. The CIA was doing brain surgery on veterans surreptitiously. And to what end do you ask? The guest explained that whenever the CIA felt the need to nudge the nation a little further to the right politically, they would dial in one of those radio receivers which would send a jolt to the victim’s emotion center causing that poor patient to go berserk and to kill someone at random. There would be terrific response from the terrified public which would produce a conservative reaction. And so by way of these small but horrific incidents the CIA could slowly but surely move the nation onto a more conservative path. 

I could hear the host of the show sputtering and stammering in the background as he heard this ridiculous story unfold live on the air. He obviously realized that his guest had wandered into the deep end of the pool and needed to be saved. The host quickly announced a station identification break and when they returned he had his guest back on the rails. Ah Pacifica Radio, the voice of the loyal opposition and chock to the hilt with the lunatic fringe. I miss yea…not!

Fried Herring


In days of yore, when I lived in west Los Angeles, a friend came to visit. I resided in what was known as the Fairfax district and in fact only two streets over from Fairfax Avenue where there were to be found, a number of ethnically Jewish restaurants. He suggested we indulge in a meal and so we decided to walk the very short distance to Fairfax Avenue.


The day was one of those that define Los Angeles; simply put, the sun was vertiginous. The neighborhood was a mix of ethnicities known as salt-and-pepper but very much upscale as attested by the informal cognomen of "Beverly Hills Adjacent." The short walk was blessed with a variety of yard-scapes of whimsically pruned shrubs, carpet-like lawns, and architectural beauties that varied from Tudor to Spanish Mission.


As we approached Fairfax Avenue, the ubiquitous traffic parted and we crossed in safety to the east side, and into an abundance of restaurants. Their fa├žades were worn, and sun-burnt, and very much plain-Jane in appearance. We briefly searched up and down the street for a home for our hungry stomachs. In the end, the clincher, was a well-worn entrance and in particular the polished stones of the concrete at the very point at which one-hundred-thousand persons, most likely times ten, had voted with the balls of the feet as they had made their turn here.


We declared this restaurant as “the best.” It was simple; it was plain; it had booths, it had a snubbed out cigarette on the floor. Neither too clean nor too dirty, it was just a restaurant, with a few patrons, a menu, a waitress, and a cook.


We scanned the menu and I knew I had to have something exotic but not so that I could not recognize it when delivered. I puzzled over the menu, uncertain as to what to order when my eyes fell upon something familiar: fried herring. I knew herring. It was a fish and my encounters with pickled herring were very positive and so I settled upon a meal of fried herring with all the trimmings. I announced my selection to my friend who gave me a questioning look and asked anxiously, “Are you sure you want fried herring?” I didn’t take the hint from his worried tone. “Yes”, I answered, “fried herring please.”


Our dowdy waitress arrived and failed to announce that she "would be our waitress for the afternoon." She requested our orders and I without concern for the well being of others asked for the, “Fried herring plate, please.” She paused and gave me a very direct look through her horn rim, rhinestone-studded spectacles and asked very clearly but with a worried undertone, “Are you sure you want fried herring?” Oblivious to the obviously dark undertones in her voice, I answered, “Yes, please." The patrons in the neighboring booths had apparently overheard this, a number whom gave me double takes.


At the time it never occurred to me that anything was amiss. The waitress departed but soon returned from the kitchen. She marched straight up to me and asked in a very direct and pointed fashion, “The cook wants to know, ‘Are you sure you want fried herring?’ ” At this point one might think I would have picked up on some hint of alarm, concern, or trace of an objection to my order. But hints do not work well with me. I will frankly admit to being a bit obtuse. Do not waste your time dropping hints unless they have the substantial weight of a bowling ball and are applied directly to my skull. Some might say I am thick, I like to say I am not always very perceptive or concerned about the welfare of the people about me. And so I replied to the cook’s interrogative, “Yes, fried herring please.”


My companion, a professor of mathematics a UCLA, a man steeped in logic and rational thought, appeared puzzled and completely unable to parse my thinking. The behavior he observed before him must have seemed totally irrational, as was attested to by his gap-jawed, alarmed stare. The other patrons began to change to booths far away from ours.


The waitress left with the order and soon there began to fill the very air, a very putrid odor akin to that of flaming tires, salted with burning flesh of a fishy sort that rasped at the olfactory canals in an painful way. Though I was much alarmed by the stench I had no clue as to what could be the cause, until the dead fried thing was presented to me, by the waitress on a very hot plate, still sizzling, and with an ironic look from her that said "Enjoy."


Sooooo…this was fried herring, most interesting! It took me all of about two seconds to come to the conclusion that I did not want fried herring. And although I am sure, the tasting of such a thing probably would not have killed me had I eaten it, I declined the opportunity to test whether it might have rendered me stronger.

Small Things

I was reading and could not be interrupted by odd sounds or my imaginings. It was the late night of a spring evening. With my ear near an open window, I was prone to distractions. I don’t recall what it was I was reading, but I found I was interrupted by the sound of very dim meowing, like that of kittens. But I had no kittens. The sounds were weak, and they seemed so impossibly distant that I dismissed them as figments of my imagination, or perhaps as the calling of some yet unknown-to-me creature of the desert that surrounds my home. I heard them again the next evening, smaller and weaker still.

Later the next day, as I was patrolling the perimeter of my fenced yard, I discovered a kit rabbit, a nestling, lying on the ground. Flies were crawling on its lifeless body. It was cold and stiff with wound marks; I thought of my tomcat. I had seen him lurking about.

It was a warm day and I held its body, cold and stiff in my hand. I raised my eyes and saw at a short distance another kit, also lying still on the ground. And in a line though the first and the second, there lay a third on a compost heap. It too was still. The second was badly wounded but alive, the third was un-wounded but very weak. They were so young their eyes were still closed. I asked myself, “What catastrophe could have urged these small things from their warm den and into the terrible light of day and torture?”

I looked about for an answer and turning, realized the line through the three pointed to a gate in my fence. Along that line was a well-worn path to a small gap at the base. The opening was just large enough to allow a hungry mother rabbit to gain access to an Eden of green forage, an oasis in the desert. But why were these three here on the hard ground? Why had they left their warm den and the comfort of their mother only to be mauled by my cats and pecked by ravens?

I had often seen the adult rabbits grazing in the yard. And there, I speculate, the mother had met its demise in the jaws of my dog. The mother gone, the kits would have begun to starve and, after crying out in hunger to lifeless ears, they would have gone in search of her warm milk. Up from the warm familial burrow and out into the night, on wobbly legs they crept, following her scent. The first, the bravest and strongest, followed by the others, wobbled uncertainly, blindly into the dark, and exposed themselves.

I found them, one dead, one wounded, one whole…but very weak. I knew, however, the hopelessness of their situation. I had tried in the past to care for the soft delicate things brought to me by my cats in the cage of their teeth. The cats release them grudgingly to me only for me to see them die shortly after of their injuries; I try but they fail. I knew if I touched the kits, I would be bonded with them, so delicate, small, and blind. And so, as to not touch them, I used a stick and the pan of a shovel to lift them from the ground. I carried them into the desert, a short distance from my home to a place where I left dead chickens and such…a designated sacrifice place. I gently lay them down onto the barren, sandy earth among the white-thorn and paintbrush scrubs.

It was evening and growing dark when I left them. I thought nothing of it. I left them there and went about my activities and then to bed and then to sleep. But sleep is seldom a steady place; the troubles of the day well-up and present. And so I dreamed... myself high above the scene…where I saw a dark landscape of spots of scrub and a little house, all illuminated by the cold light of the blue giants. And on the perimeter, something dark and sinister moved toward the sacrifices.

I awoke with a start. I leapt from my bed, hurried on my robe and slippers, grabbed the flashlight and dog leash. The dog, hearing the sound of the leash lifted, was already out of his house and ready to go. I snapped it on and was pulled out of the gate in his wake. His nose was to the ground, towing me along with the vacuum of its suction. He sucked and sneezed and chuffed at the wild scents. My flashlight showed him the direction until we were at the sacrifice…but they were gone. I urged the dog to search an ever widening area, but found no sign of the small, soft bodies. The beast had come and gone. The sacrifice was over.

Even the beasts of the field must be fed. They too have their empty stomachs and their hungry young. Do they not too deserve a harvest? I assumed my chances of successfully saving the unharmed, weak one to be very small. I made that calculation in the cold light of past experience, and I’m certain that it was correct. But, though the chance was very small, I should have made the attempt to save one small, helpless thing…if not for its sake…then for my own.

A Nice Story About…

Late one night, some years back, I was exploring the desert about my house with a flashlight. Night is a good time to view some of the smaller denizens of the desert. Various types of insects creep about at that time.

So, I was casting my light here and there when it fell upon a luminous object on the ground about twenty feet distant. It seemed to have the shape of a starfish with four or five arms radiating from a central point. I was stunned to see such a thing in the desert. The arms seemed to be moving very slowly. I approached it. As I approached, the arms began to shrink back toward the central body. It was diffuse, and rather transparent. As I moved closer the arms shrank with increasing rapidity and I began to make out individual lights, hundreds of them flowing toward a dark central disk. Finally I was standing over it. It was then that I realized that the glowing, moving objects were tiny insects. I shone the flashlight into the dark central disk, which I then understood was a hole in the ground. There I saw six or eight small lights, larger than the luminous insects rushing into the central hole, shinning back at me. The shock of realization hit me; those larger lights were the eyes of a tarantula staring back at me, reflecting the light from my flashlight, and the luminous small objects were baby spiders each one with a set of eight eyes all of them looking at me and also reflecting the light. The baby spiders had been out exploring the world and foraging and as I approached them I had frightened them causing them to rush back into the nest. Mother was standing guard just inside the nest looking back at me and ready to defend its baby…spiders!

Flying Monkeys

In order to truly enjoy some movies it is required of the viewer to suspend all judgment, quiet the critic, silence the cynic and allow the gullible child to eat all the sweet nonsense that it wants. The Wizard of Oz is one such movie that truly tempts the child in the viewer.

Many years ago, at the still gullible age of thirty-two, I recall watching the Wizard of Oz. You no doubt recall the scene where the Wicked Witch of the North was watching, through her crystal ball, Dorothy and her crew advancing through a wicked forest and she instructs her hoard of flying monkeys to snatch Dorothy (oh, and her little dog too) and bring her to the castle. The monkeys launched themselves and swooped down, beat the stuffing out of the Scare-Crow, terrified the Cowardly Lion, and molested the Tin-Man. I must have suspended my judgment for a little too long and to too great a degree because after watching it I was firmly convinced of the existence of flying monkeys. If there are flying fish, flying squirrels, flying lizards, why then not flying monkeys?

I distinctly recall sitting at my desk at work and thinking to myself…”Yeah, I gotta get me one of those flying monkeys! That would be pretty neat!” I played with the idea for several days but, slowly, reality eroded my child like frame of reference and intruded, until finally, I snapped out of it. “Hey!…What?…Wow! What could I have been thinking? There’s no such thing as a flying monkey!”, was the piercing conclusion of that idyllic bubble in my life. What a shame, how sad,…there are no flying monkeys.

A Life So Simple

When I lived in Los Angeles I had, for a brief, while a woman friend. She was a married, but her husband, a member of a flight crew was out of town for extended periods. Miguel knew I was hanging with Mabel and actually he approved. This is one of the episodes that I have buried in my memory until now because it marked with the bitter-sweet end for me, of a paradise.

To have the company of a woman, simply as a friend, is the most perfect state for a man. If I could, I would assign such a task to all men and if they could not pass though it without transgression, I would assign to them, preemptively, a prison cell. To have such company is a blessing. It is rather like having a sister, but with some small amount of sexual/romantic tension spicing things up. For a very brief while there was the promise of a sexual liaison, but we quickly set that to one side and we settled into a kind of otherwise-domesticity.

Mabel was a refugee. She was cast out of her family in her early twenties to cover for the sexual transgressions of a male cousin. She briefly witnessed, but did not understand until later, the turmoil of El Salvador. A twist in the immigration laws of the United States allowed her family to dump her into the custody of an aunt in Los Angeles. I am vague on the details of how she met Miguel but he endeared himself to her. Mabel told me that Miguel had warned her of an imminent gang rape she was to experience. Miguel had a sense of correctness but he also had designs on Mabel, which I assume were of a more honorable sort than the crew of vermin that also swarmed about the scene. I glean these sentiments from my contact and conversations with Miguel. I must say he had the upright bearing of a man and he gave me the impression of one whom may have some noble heritage.

I don’t recall how I first came to make Mabel’s acquaintance, but I do recall she was attempting to gain her GED and I spent many an evening prompting her into the correct answer. She was working tremendously hard and making very rapid progress; something only a person burning for an achievement can muster. I warned her to slow down and make more steady progress. But she worked at it the way she drove her car…in a maniacal fashion. I remember sitting at her kitchen table and the soft air of the coast breeze wafting through her windows and over my shoulder; the whole scene illuminated by a small, low lamp.

She had one eye smaller than the other. When she became tired, her left eye would shrink or recede into her head giving her an odd appearance. She was cognizant of this odd trait and we would make jokes about it, “So, I see by your right eye, it’s time to hit the sack.” Mabel’s apartment was adjacent to mine in a most intimate way. Our bathrooms were back to back and even more intimately our medicine cabinets were a mere fraction of an inch apart. The metal cabinets were, as a result, rather transparent to sound. We could open the doors of our cabinets and talk to each other as if we were in the same room. On a few occasions I would hear her on the other side and remind her, via my disembodied voice, “Don’t to forget to floss.” If we  left the cabinets door open, we could talk quite easily while she was at the cabinet and I was in my living room.

Mabel would enlist me for grocery excursions on Saturdays to the Farmers Markets set up in downtown El Segundo where we lived, and to the supermarket at night as she liked to have a male companion to “protect” her. But, she really wanted company and I would comply by driving her there, to shop and then return her, and unload the groceries. Very domestic, no? Through these excursions, I came to understand the competitive nature of the female of the species. While shopping with Mabel by my side, I noticed the very much greater interest women had in me; I was otherwise invisible to them. But I digress.

I am unclear as to how, or why I concluded my life in L.A. but in November of 1999, I packed up a van and moved myself back to Dead Stick, Arizona. After two years of loneliness I returned to Los Angeles to visit Mabel and Miguel. Mabel was many months pregnant when I left, and her daughter, now two, was so young and so pretty. They provided room and board for me for several days as I renewed our acquaintance. My fondest memory of the visit came one evening as music played and the three of us watched and enjoyed the sight of their child dance freely, and uninhibited, as if to teach us, how we should be. And then, Miguel turned to me and said, “You know Zed…life has become so simple…when she’s happy…we’re happy.”

An Insight Into the Character of Rush Limbaugh

Some time ago I had the misfortune of working outdoors while someone, a neighbor, had Rush Limbaugh blaring from the radio. Some people believe they should broadcast their propaganda for all the public to enjoy. He was in full throat and railing about something or other. Fortunately the radio was at such a distance that I could not make out the words but only the tenor of his speech. The literal content was not clear but I could discern the emotional content of what Mr. Limbaugh was saying. For a brief while I was a bit like a dog. Dogs in general cannot understand the words we use unless they are trained to do so, rather they understand the cadence and emotional content. There are people, aphasics, who also cannot understand literally the words we use. Damage to their brains has rendered them unable to understand the literal meaning of words but they can function when around people with whom they are familiar as the tone of those persons voices conveys enough information. I refer you to “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”, by Oliver Sacks.

While I could not understand the words, the emotional content was very clear and what I heard very clearly was the sound of a small child, leveling a long unaired grievance against his parents. It was very plain, very clear and very obnoxious.

Jump-Cat

Jump was given to me by a veterinarian. They told me they had received her from people that had found her in their back yard. Actually their dogs found her, who then reported the fact to their people. I forget the exact circumstance described to me but I can imagine two very large dogs with very perplexed looks on their faces attested to by their crinkled brows, confused by their desires to eat but constrained by their parental urges to care for the young, as the kitten stumbled between the forest of their legs. The kit was “rescued” from being trampled beneath the nervous paws and delivered to the vet who delivered her to me.

She was a tortoiseshell cat, a torti. Small then, she never grew to the full size of a feline, but took advantage of her miniature status to confuse the other adult cats into believing she was just a kitten even after a year old. And so, she could eat the better food from under the jowls of the adults. I named her Jump after the startling habit she had of jumping on to my shoulders. Her favorite time for this activity was when her man was deep in thought and very still i.e. when I was standing in front of the opened refrigerator and deep in contemplation of the goodies within. Jump, having understood my desire, would have placed herself on a nearby table a mere ten feet or so from my frozen circumstance and seeing her opportunity, would launch herself.

This happened to me with regularity but I never, ever learned to anticipate the heart stopping fright it would give me. I would hear a subtle sound from slightly behind me and to my left. I would startle and turn my head rapidly but only in time to see what appeared to be a cat’s head looming large, with eyes as big as an owl’s. Though she was on a collision course with my head, I didn’t have time to duck, dodge, or weave. My heart would leap into my mouth, I was sure it, the cat’s head, was about to collide with mine!! But in the next instant Jump would land neatly on my shoulder. There she would be, on my shoulder, and landed without use of a single claw, just as she had many times before, and as if in a mockery would proceed to rubbing her body against mine.

Now let’s back this scene up in time and rotate ninety degrees, so as to see her in profile. By the time I turned my head she would he halfway along her trajectory. From this perspective she would be stretched out perfectly along the streamlines of the air and her small sleek body would be hidden behind the looming orb of her fast approaching head. Her front limbs, foreshortened from my perspective would be unnoticeable. From my startled view, all I would see would be her head and in particular her very large eyes, locked onto mine, apparently intent on a kamikaze strike! My heart would nearly stop at the sight.

But, she meant no harm. It was just a special game that she liked to play with me. She had done it many times before and I never learned to anticipate it. I must say, sometimes I can be very slow to pick up on the games females play. But more on Jump later.

Peoples-cat

Peoples is my gregarious cat. He came to me from the street where he was starving. Actually he came to me indirectly via friends for whom I work. In fact, I think I witnessed the eviction that may have caused Peoples to be on the street.

I was working on my friends’ yard one day when a Sheriffs deputy drove up to a house across the street. There was some shouting and crying and I saw people rushing about gathering things and putting them into a car. Shortly after, another deputy arrived and a civilian car also. I suppose the civilian was the owner of the property as I later saw her attach a lock to the gate as the former occupants drove away. This is pure speculation but I imagine that Peoples lived on the property and his owners were forced to move into an apartment where pets were not allowed. They might have come around to feed him for a while and then moved out of town leaving him abandoned.

My friends told me they had seen him outside their home on a number of occasions trying to catch birds that gathered at their bird feeders and that he was trying to eat a bird-block. Any cat that tries to gain sustenance by eating a bird-block is a very hungry cat. He began sitting on their doorstep as if asking to be let in and as he appeared to be starving they relented and brought him into their home.

I first met Peoples a couple of weeks later when I arrived to clean my friends’ yard. He immediately jumped onto my lap and rubbed his head against me. I suspect that he came from a large family as he is so friendly, and is always the first of my cats to make his appearance and will greet a stranger within a few minutes of their arrival. I named him Peoples as he was abandoned, yielded unto the people, made a public cat, a people’s cat and free for the taking and because he is so gregarious the name Peoples seems perfect. I adopted him from my friends as they are allergic to cat dander.

He loves his man; he loves his food; and loves playing with the kitten, Miss Hiss. He does not, however, love my other tomcat, Legs, whom he identifies as “Enemy Cat”, as Peoples is a lover not a fighter. He has only one flaw and that involves cat-box etiquette but for your sake I won’t go into the specifics. He is a sweet cat but also a very stinky cat. Peoples lies now in his favorite place, my lap. He is an all black, short-haired, neutered boy, with one fang longer than the other. He likes to rest his head on my chest and look up at me with a smile on his face, his one fang stark against his blackness, his eyes screwed down, but with his happiness shinning through.

Pooh-cat


Pooh is my special cat. She is the queen of the household and the keeper of my heart. She loves me intensely. Pooh is a plump, short-haired tuxedo cat with a big wide face and large olive eyes. The black/white transition passes perfectly though her eyes giving her a harlequin appearance. I received her from a veterinarian at about six weeks and she fell madly in love with me. During her adolescence she began to sing in her sleep. She would be curled up on my bed asleep, snoring but then she began to add other sounds…humming, drumming, squealing, rattling, clicking, popping, buzzing, all of it underlain by a very musical purring. I called them sleep-songs. The sounds she strung together were not a random selection of sounds, but formed a pattern. Over a period of a day or two the pattern changed into another completely different song. I found her songs so fascinating that I began to awake spontaneously to listen to her latest composition. How I wish I had recorded them. They were the most creative thing I have ever heard come out of any creature. There is no bird song that is as beautiful as hers…at least to me. I considered but did not try to record them. Had I done so I am sure she would have made me wealthy many times over. It was an amazing thing to hear such a creative thing spring from something so simple as a cat.

Pooh takes good care of her man. She watches me carefully and learns my habits. For a while I was going to bed promptly at 9:30. She noticed this and would run to the bed in anticipation of my arrival. If I did not show up on time she would hurry out of the bedroom, run up to me and proceed to meow at me in a particularly plaintive way. She would continue until I told her “Go to bed!” Whereupon she would hurry off to my bed and wait there for a few minutes and if I again did not show up soon enough, she would repeat her lamentations until I relented. Pooh knows my schedule and she expects me to be punctual. She loves her going-to-bed-cuddle-time. She curls up against me and I wrap an arm around her and stroke her.

Some months ago I began to take out time in the evening to watch the sunset. I set up a chair on the lawn and Pooh, the dog, and the duck would come around to join me. Pooh quickly caught on to this activity and decided to make it a special event. She would sit next to the chair and await my arrival. If I did not show up she would run inside and whine at me once again, in her most obnoxious way possible, until I told her to go. She would then run outside and again sit next to the chair. I could see the chair from my desk and could see her waiting patiently for her man to join her. She would turn around and look at me as if to ask if I was coming along. I would relent and join her for another sunset. She is a most attentive cat.

She has been with me fourteen years. I can imagine finding homes for all my other creatures, but I will never give up my Pooh-cat.

Max the Clever

When I resided in West Los Angeles I lived in an apartment building of two stories and sixteen units. One of the tenants had a cat they called Max. Max I suppose was diminutive of Maximilian.

Max was a big Manx cat; a member of the breed with the bobbed tails. He was a full figured big beautiful short haired dark tabby (FFBBSHDT). Max was allowed out of his home to survey the neighborhood for prey and frequently showed up at my doorstep to ask to be let inside for the purpose of inspecting my apartment for the presence of mice.

I would be typing at my computer, working on a computer program, a hobby I pursued after work hours, when I would hear a gentle pawing sound at my door. It was Max. He had shown up on my doorstep many times before, asking to be let in to inspect. Without thinking I would drop what I was doing and open the door and Max would enter and proceed.

He followed the same path every time. A left turn took him past me and into the kitchen, from there to the bathroom, from there to the spare bedroom, from there to the bedroom, from there back into the living room and a quick peek behind the sofa, and finally back to the door. By then I had returned to my programming, but upon hearing his pawing at the inside of my door, I would rise to accommodate his request for the door to be opened, and his duty done he would exit. About an hour later he would show up once again at my doorstep, paw at the door, the door would be dutifully opened, he would make the same tour and soon be back at the door requesting to be let out once again. The process repeated itself many times each night for months, until one night I finally became cognizant that I was in a loop.

At that instant I realized that Max would show up with a period of one hour and repeat the same exercise four of five times a night. I wondered what was it he was up to? And so I watched.

Max showed up, repeated his usual exercise of inspecting my apartment, and was let out but this time I followed him, and I watched as he hurried his plump body up the stars to the most extreme apartment. Where he sat himself down, and pawed at the door. There was a pause, and the door opened. Max stepped in, and the door closed. I waited, a minute or two, and the door opened and Max would exit. He then proceeded to the next apartment on his agenda. Sat down, pawed at the door, the door opened, he was let in, a pause, the door would open, and he would be let out. I watched as he proceeded along the walkway, bypassing doors he had learned would not open, down the steps to the ground-floor apartments, until he once again arrived at my apartment, looked up at me, gave me a waggle of his bobbed tail, politely meowed, and sat on my doorstep.

His circuit of the apartment building had taken about one hour. He repeated the circuit four times each evening which completed his evening. He had, in effect, trained the entire building of apartment dwellers to entertain him in his efforts to rid the world of the wily mouse. He turned to look at me and meowed politely as if to ask, "Why is this door not opening?" The door opened and we both walked in.

My Cat, All Cats



I am cat. 
I am your cat, and I am all cats.
I am the cat of all cats, which have or ever will be.
I am the cat of the present, the cat of the past, 
the cat of all future time.
I am the cat, that is now.


Though I am here now I am not here for you, 
I am here not for your neighbor, nor your neighbor’s neighbor, 
not for you, nor for any other. 
I am here for me and for me alone. 
I am for me and I am here now, not later, but now.
Pay attention to me, now.


I lie before my Feeder,
as I do before all such Feeders of me, all of them alike. 
I present myself to you for your admiration of me and me alone. 
I lie before my Feeder in luxuriant repose, 
long, so long
sleek, so sleek
lithe, so lithe
glossy, so glossy
cute, so cute.
But do not touch, oh no, do not touch.
I am for me and for me alone.


But let me tell you of my tail.
What tale you may ask and I answer you this: 
What other tail but my own?
What other tail might there be but this one, 
that is mine, this one here, 
here, just beside me here? 
But is behind me, behind me, behind me, behind me. 
And is still behind me and always will be behind me, 
despite how rapidly, and what increasing speed I should spin.
The tail that is mine, that tail.
My tail, mine and mine alone,
and you too may enjoy it,
but do not touch it, oh no,
as I am in repose with my tail,
this tail, that is mine.

But enough of that fuss there is more to tell.
Yes much more, more than can be told,
in one day, one week, one month, 
one year of lifetime of a cat.
That is why we have nine lives,
and not two or three or five but nine lives,
and not less than that number of lives 
that are required to accomplish all of these naps.


And of naps there are many indeed.
Naps enough but not enough,
naps that are quick and naps that are long, 
naps that are light and naps that are deep, 
naps that are have colors that you do not know, 
naps that have tones and feeling,
of which you know nothing but I do.
Naps that are both full or empty with dreams.
And I will tell you of them, 
I will tell you of them someday, sometime but not now, 
Not now, sometime, soon, very soon, but not now.
For now I must sleep.


I must sleep the sleep that only cats sleep, 
and truly, they alone know how to sleep. 
To sleep and so to sleep.
And sleep I do, and do it well-better, 
much better than any other in the animal kingdom.
While I am first and foremost Cat,
I am and say this with pride, 
I am second most but very close to the first, 
a sleeper
I am the sleeper of sleeps, 
the deep sleeper, 
the light sleeper, 
the curled sleeper, 
the sleeper on the back with little feet pointing so perfectly into the air, 
the sleeper with one eye open or both open or both closed, 
but ears open, always open.
And so I sleep, and so what?
What if I should sleep and sleep and sleep and sleep?
I do this for your sake. 
It is for you that I sleep 
I take this great responsibility upon myself. 
I do this for you and not for me.
But soon I will rise.

For rise I must as I am hungry,
and take upon myself a great and sacred responsibility,
great and serious and full with danger.
I assume a grievous and serious responsibility, 
applying myself a task that while it may repel you, 
a task for which you should shower me with endless thanks and treats of many kind:
..................................................
That of your spider-eater.
But not now,
I am sleeping.


But rise I must and rise I will,
as the day is already done and it is full with night.
I rise and stretch
bone weary from my nap, 
to stretch, to prepare, 
to yawn, to electrify myself, 
and bring eyes, ears, nose, throat,
bones, joints, muscles, my very teeth, 
sparklingly alive for the hunt for spider.


What spider do I hear you ask timorously?
No, not what spider, 
not one spider but in truth as truth must out, 
Those many spiders.
Yes, those spiders, plural.
The ones that hide in your bath,
the ones beneath your bed,
the ones in your closet hiding in you blouses, 
the ones recessed within your pantry,
and the little ones inside your shoe,
that I have put there for safe keeping.


I know these things,
for nature has designed my every fiber,
For the hunt of the multi-legged beast.
My very substance vibrates in the presence of the spider,
As the beast’s web vibrates when a fat green fly lands in its nest.
A fat, round, full, fly,
loud with fly thrashing, buzzing and struggle,
full with soft, sweet, juicy innards, 
rich, creamy, aromatic,
fly taste as only I know.
For third after spider-eater,
I am fly-eater.


And so, here you see me before you,
licking my chops,
looking at you and no other,
you, and you alone, 
still hungry but duty done as truly as duty can be done.
And so why is it, I ask you, that you look?
Do you not know
do you not understand your use?
Is it not perfectly apparent what is expected of you?
Here, now, your task that cries with immediacy?
Perform your task or I will become a pest.
Do it now before I become truly annoyed with you,
and turn to making many loud and obnoxious noises.


Noises, high like an infant’s cry.
But worse, noises designed to annoy you as no other noise can, 
Noises, nasally and constant
from all directions as no infant can make them.
From behind you, now in front, now to the left, 
now the right, now below you, above you, from near, from far.
A noise seemingly inside your head.
All the while I pace before you,
Stepping on you, 
rubbing against you, 
as if you were some magic lamp, 
able to produce a prodigious fount of kibble here and now.


Yes, now it is your time, 
your time to prove your worth as Feeder.
As you are the Feeder and that is your purpose,
that and that alone, 
It is your time to feed me!
Feed me, feed me, feed me, 
mee, meeee, meeeeeeeeeeeeee!
And feed me well, as well you should.
Fill my bowel, not part way in some small, mean, 
cheap way but up-and-up fill it, 
toward the edge, 
To the very brim, full and then beyond.
Spill the kibble, more and more and more onto the floor.
And filling the floor, into the living room where filling that full too, 
out the door and onto the sidewalk.
Produce a cornucopia of kibble. 
Empty it here, now tonight onto the street,
and stand and watch, watch I say.


Watch,
just watch as they will come,
from near, from far,
from the homes, and the alleys,
from the next street and then beyond,
from the nearest towns, and villages will they, 
the cats come.
Alone, and together, 
In pairs and litters, by packs, by droves,
They will be here soon, tonight soon, I swear it soon, 
Very, very soon, not this instant but soon.
Not just now, but soon, very soon.
But not right now.
They are sleeping.

Lightness and Darkness

I have a kitten. She is now nine months old and rapidly taking on the form of a graceful feline. She came to me in mid-December in the back of a pickup of a friend who brings to me scraps for my chickens. My friend arrived one dark December evening and explained in her Spanglish, that she had a couple of kittens in a bucket in the back of her truck. She had taken them from a friend’s empty house that had been vacated by a family who left behind a mother cat and a litter of kits. I cannot understand how heartless people can be as animal shelters in this locale accept such creatures and they only destroy those that are badly diseased and so feral that they cannot be adopted. The owner of the house allowed the cats to remain inside and provided them with food, water, and a clean litter box daily. But, at six weeks, it was decided to find them homes.

I had never seen a bucket-o-cats and so asked permission. My friend opened the lid, and I could vaguely make out two dark forms at the bottom. I reached in and picked out the darker of the two. I suppose I subconsciously picked out the darkest, as those are the ones most likely to survive the onslaught of the coyotes. Once I have such a helpless and lovable creature in my hands I am unable to put it down. What a concept…a bucket-o-cats.

So, I took my new charge into my bedroom, shooed out the other cats, provided litter, food and water. The entire time I was doing this the kit was hissing at me. My thought, of course, was that it was perfectly natural for her to hiss as I was a stranger. She curled up on a comforter and hissed me a goodnight. But the next morning, there she was still hissing at me. Shortly thereafter, I concluded that she was not capable of normal meowing. A few days later she received her first checkup at the veterinarian clinic and the vet reassured me that some cats develop a voice much later than others.

So I dubbed her Miss Hiss. Over the months she has developed more of a meow but it is used primarily to warn me that I have stepped on one of her parts or to tell me that she is very, very hungry. When contented, she reverts to her endearing hiss, interspersed with trilling sounds. She is a black-gray and white semi-long haired pussy who still takes advantage of her kitten status by eating the better food from under the jowls of the adult cats. Her forte is the catching of gypsy-moths that hover near the flowers of the evening. The moths, she then brings inside and releases into the environment of my home; just as all good hunter cats must do with rats, mice, grasshoppers, snakes, etc.

She’s formed some type of symbiotic relationship with my Peking duck, Ms. Friendly. This is only speculation, as I did not see it happen, but I suspect that Miss Hiss has accidentally fed Ms. Friendly a gypsy-moth or two. Typically Miss Hiss will bring her moth-prey into the house and release it so she can jump about on the furniture, knocking books off of shelves and articles off of tables in her frenzied attempt to recapture her newly released toy. At some point I grow tired of the whirlwind of chaos she creates and recapture the moth which is then delivered to Ms. Friendly, who in turns devours the offered treat. I suspect that Ms. Friendly, at some point, short-circuited the capture-and-release process a few times by snagging the moth from Miss Hiss’s mouth. So the duck has apparently come to associate the kitten with food and it therefore identifies Miss Hiss as a friend. This would explain the willingness of Ms. Friendly, to tolerate the kitten.

Typically the duck will chase off any cat within easy range. It’s an amusing sight to see a duck lower its head and charge a cat that is moving too slowly. The cats run off at double time, uttering bickering sounds. But in the case of Miss Hiss, Ms. Friendly pays no heed. I frequently see the kitten lounging on the lawn, close-by Ms. Friendly.

A few months ago the two of them teamed up to save my life. I was watering plants and was walking back to turn off the hose when I noticed both the kitten and duck investigating something in the shrubbery under which the hose bib is hidden. I wisely looked before I reached, and there I discovered a rattlesnake twined about the stand-pipe, with its head resting within inches of the hose bib. Had I not noticed the kitten‘s and duck‘s behavior, I would have unthinkingly done as I usually do, reached under the shrub, and would have been bitten. The snake would not have had time to warn me. It was a Mohave rattlesnake which has particularly vicious venom.

I bring Miss Hiss and the cat-company inside at night, to protect them from the coyotes that grow very bold in the evening. I have only one dog which is not enough to keep the wild beasts at bay. Last night a coyote came up to the doorstep, next to the dog house and attempted to carry off my Ms. Friendly. There is a gap in the pen in which I place her for safe keeping and the beast plunged its muzzle between the bars and grabbed a piece of hide out of my poor duck. I heard her squawking which awoke me, and my shouting scared off the ghostly intruder. My dog remained inside his house as a ninety-five pound black-lab, pit-bull mix is no match for even the scrawniest coyote and they both know it. Two dogs make a wolf pack; one dog is a coward.

Ms. Friendly bled through the night and is hanging on to the day. I hope she survives as she is the friendliest duck I have ever had. What can I say about a duck that runs up to me quacking madly upon my arrival home, that then stretching its body across my path, it beseeches my indulgence, forcing me down upon my knees, it purrs and whirs with delight as I gently stroke its neck and it winks its tiny gray eyes that it holds trustingly within inches of mine?

I have a solution for the coyote dilemma that is outside the boundaries of the law. I will implement it very soon. And soon enough there will arise from the sparse green shrubs of the desert the moaning and keening sound of a coyote in its death knells, begging for a merciful bullet, howling to the merciless stars. I will listen, and enjoy its last song.