Brindle: Our Mysterious Snowdrift Waif

Click above to hear the audio link of this story.

 

The farmhouse stood surrounded by a sea of deep snow. Snow deep, so deep —four feet deep snow. We had just broken a thirty year record. What a winter, and although it was February, we wouldn’t be digging out anytime soon.

“There’s a cat on the fence post.” “What cat? You are kidding. Really?”

“If you don’t get out there soon and get it, the dogs will.”

He was kidding, but I pulled on my snow boots and trudged across the driveway to the end of the fence line at the back of the pasture. A raggedy dark brown creature mounded the flat topped wooden fence post. She looked frightening; she was starving. I stood and looked at her for several minutes before braving to pick her up, and when I lifted her, she began to purr. She was a bundle of sticks- skeleton sticks. I put her down in the barn apartment with a litter box and some canned food. Only an eighth of a cup. She ate eagerly. Better to not over do it. Purr. Purr, and then she got into the litter box and used it. She’d seen a litter box before.

Where did she come from; how did she survive in the middle of this terrible winter across four feet of snow with the nearest farmhouse a mile away? And none of our neighbors claimed her, though two said they had lost a tortoiseshell cat recently. They came and looked at her and shook their heads. By then she was living in the guest bathroom in our farmhouse.

BrindleSnow[Conditions at Mule Springs Farm when Brindle arrived in February 2017]

The vet said, “this cat has been exposed for a very long time; it’s really a miracle she survived the predators and the deep snow.” She needs rest, food, and recovery.

So she rested and began to regain weight. But, my hopes of finding a good home for her were crushed, when I learned that she was sick. The extreme starvation had caused severe damage to her kidneys and liver.

Brindle would court Death but not marry him for another year and a half.

Meanwhile she’d rule here— inspiring four big dogs and two cats to respect her space and her one remaining sharp tooth. Brindle would often sit in the middle of a room, so that all the other animals would have to weave around her. If they got too close- swoosh went the paw. But, she wasn’t stand offish with people. She invited people to pick her up, carry her around, and pet her.

She made so many visits to the vet to have blood drawn, have her ears cleaned, to have various procedures, including an ultrasound and treatments for infected toes; and she bore all with composure. One of the vets believed Brindle liked it there. It was “one of her favorite places.” And, indeed she enjoyed every bit of attention and did not show any signs of stress no matter what they did to her.

We built a large window box for Brindle, and she’d spend hours outside watching the birds and all the farm activities. I could see her throughout my day as I zoomed back and forth in my Ranger. As time passed she transformed from being one of the ugliest cats I had ever seen to one of the most exotic and handsome of cats. Her coat was stripped brown and black, and as she gained weight her eyes went from sunken and haunted to expressive and clear. She was a female, and I had never really liked female cats, but she worked her way into my heart because she had such style.

A month ago I noticed Brindle seemed to be getting weaker and appeared to be losing weight again. She had lost and gained weight and even crashed to the extent I thought she might die several times in the past year. But, every time she’d come back from the precipice and recover. I took her in to see the vet again, and this time the blood work showed off the charts kidney values indicating stage four kidney failure —terminal. Right there the vet recommended euthanasia, because it wasn’t possible, based on the kidney values, for Brindle to rally this time. Suddenly I noticed Brindle was shaking. Her small body quivered in my arms as I told the vet “no, I’m going to take her home.”

As I later explained to my husband, “I brought her home, because for the first time she seemed anxious and afraid.” Why was she shaking? I wasn’t going to end her life on that note.

Some deaths need to be experienced instead of cut short, and I felt this was one of them. Brindle and I went onto hospice. She kept alert and participated in each day as much as she could. For two weeks she rode along with me in my arms, and we walked down to the ponds, and we rested amongst the autumn leaves as they fell from the old gothic elm. She wore her red harness and she lay out in the sun in the yard on every good warm day. Sometimes the dogs lay or sat beside her. She no longer shunned anything. She stayed in my office the rest of the time, and the door was open so the cats visited her all day long. Sometimes they slept on the bed with her, and on some days they spent more time in there with Brindle than they did in the rest of the house.

She patiently accepted the fluid injections we gave her daily. The first week she continued to eat, but by week two she was eating little. When she could not get easily in and out of the litter box, she wished to just hang out in the litter box so she could urinate where she was supposed to. I kept her and her surroundings clean. Sometimes I prompted her to eat a little or to drink water by squirting water inside her mouth.

She did lose weight, but not as quickly or as much as I feared. She never seemed uncomfortable or in pain. She was elegant. In the sunny afternoons I’d lie her close up to the gothic elm, and she’d sit there literally basking for hours.

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The final day she lay over on her side; it was the first time she had laid her head down, other than when enjoying the sun, in fourteen days. We knew she was leaving. That day we did not give her fluids as we could tell her legs were growing cool, and she would no longer swallow any water. Each time I went in to to stroke her body and check on her she would lift her head up, eyes open, and acknowledge me. It was stunning to see her still responding – still telling me — here I am. I placed her on a small fleece liner in the big litter box where she could stretch out and be safe from falling off the big bed where she had been living.

This is where she was when I left her around ten o’clock that night. The next morning I expected Brindle’s spirit departed. No longer an “I am.” The body appeared just to be sleeping. Nothing ugly or frightening or even terribly sad. If there ever was one though—Brindle’s was an inspiring life and death process. Inspiring in the beginning of her time with us, inspiring in the middle, and in the end.

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In Memory of Brindle Our Mysterious Snowdrift Waif   February 2017 – November 2018.

Cedar Hill Crematory

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Recently, my mother visited the farm, and we agreed we would spread my father’s ashes. We hoped to talk about him and share what we remembered and maybe even share some stories about times we spent with my dad (her first husband).

Clarence Denman Jones or C.D., as we called him, died when I was a sophomore in college. The circumstances around his death were gray. He died – possibly of heart failure —in a hotel in Florida, and his body was not discovered until the next day by the maid.

After my dad was cremated, the urn was mailed to me at mother’s home on Garret Street in Vienna, Virginia, and she gave me the box when I visited during school break.

Fast forward thirty five years, many moves for me from Maryland, to New Orleans, Oregon, Alaska, and back to Oregon. Two husbands. Several more dogs and cats, a parrot, two donkeys, and many pigeons. The box accompanied me everywhere and through all the various phases of my life. I never opened the box or spread the ashes, because I never found the right place or the suitable time.

C. D. and I took a trip before he died to Graves Mountain Lodge in the Shenandoah Mountains Virginia. We enjoyed sitting in the rocking chairs on the lodge’s long porch, and we hiked each day in the Virginia woods. One of our hikes took us up so high, and we sat on a ledge overlooking a valley. C.D. loved this view; the lodge, the relaxing, and the time spent together. I always remembered that place, and so one day I realized it was time to spread my father’s ashes on my own farm— way up high, and it was only right to do this with my mother by my side. So we planned to drive with the four-wheeler up to one of the the highest places on the farm overlooking the wide prairie valley.

We did this, and we told stories, and laughed, and thought back on ole nine-fingered Cash Deposit (as he was affectionally called). And, then I slit the weathered tape on the box and took out a round copper urn- that looked a lot like a can of paint. I pried open the lid with the sharp end of a hay hook. Inside we saw ground up bones and gravel.

The plan was I would drop out half the can, and mother would let go the remaining ashes.

I saw a small envelop accompanying the urn, so I opened it and read: I hereby certify that this urn contains the ashes of Ethel E. Frederickson. Died October 3, 1982. I said, “My God, you’re not going to believe this.”
“What’s Wrong?”

“ I can’t believe it – these are not C.D.’s ashes. I’ve been carrying this box around for thirty-five years, and it’s Ethel, not C.D.”

We were startled, and I felt a temporary swelling of keen disappointment. Had I been cheated? Of course it was funny too. And we wondered who got C.D. those many years ago, and mom comforted herself by hoping it really was C.D.’s ashes, and the information inside the envelope was incorrect.

But, In the end, we did a beautiful job of blowing Ethel’s ashes across the yellow-dry grasses during early autumn at Mule Springs Farm.

We thought about C.D., and we wondered about Ethel, who she was, what life she lived, and who her people were. C.D. and Ethel were both released that day, and now that a week has passed; it all seems okay; I’m glad we held the ceremony and we spoke about my dad and mom and I had some time to reflect what he meant to us in our lives.

And if Ethel was really there too – she was welcome.

Eclipse: 2017

Bruce and some of our musician friends from Alaska left around 6 a.m. to reach the point of totality, so they could have the full 2017 Eclipse experience. I was mostly interested in what the eclipse would be like at the farm, and whether or not the animals would show any difference in behavior. So, I stayed here and hiked up to the top of our property on Razorback Ridge. The dogs, Skookum and Gypsy, and the donkeys, Chippo and Ziggy, accompanied me.

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View from old stagecoach road close to top of Razorback Ridge

 

 

Here are the notes and a few pictures from my Eclipse experience.

845 a.m. almost to the top of Razorback Ridge. Should I go on up to the highest point of our property? The eclipse will only last 45-60 seconds here, so if I want to be higher, I won’t have time to move. If a huge dark shadow moves across the landscape, I want to see that.

A jet and a large military helicopter flies by overhead. I hear American robins, goldfinch, Western Meadowlark, black-capped chickadee, and California jays calling.

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One more push and we’ll be on the ridge top!

Richard, my neighbor should be on the ridge directly across from me in 40 minutes. Another military helicopter… a small plane flies overhead.

A gaggling passel of American crow bunched up and gossiping fly up Three Mile Canyon. Skookum has found a huge cow bone, and he’s parading up the steep trail with the bone in his mouth. He sets it down to pee, and Gypsy snakes in and snatches the bone. We finally reach the top where an old stagecoach road intersects the path. I can see down Three Mile to the Columbia River, and up the canyon to the the tip of Mount Hood jutting above Dutch Flats. More chortling-cavorting crows fly by.

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My neighbor just texted ; they made it to totality. Bruce just texted; he made it to totality, and he and the other musicians are just setting up to entertain the crowd. Both groups are parked along the highway. Cows at Abbas’ farm are mooing.

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Tom, Heidi, and Bruce entertaining the eclipse crowds.

I’m at the top settled under a white oak and listening to the melodic tones of meadowlarks as the birds sweep from tree to tree. Usually, I see those birds in the prairie below and not so much in the ridge country. A Cooper’s hawk perches silently in the next oak. Statuesque it seems uninterested in the songbirds passing closely by even though they form a large part of this bird’s diet. The donkeys are coming up slowly from the lower trail. I hope they get closer, so I can observe them when the event happens.

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9:08 a.m. Donkeys and dogs are close by my tree. I can hear Chippo’s rumbling gut sounds. Skookum’s butt is on my shoe. Gypsy crunches her bone. A small plane passes by. Dead Still. A Downy woodpecker chases another Downy woodpecker. 9:28 slight breeze and feels slightly cooler. Two small planes flying in tandem fly over my head. 9:48 I think I hear crickets. Is that what I hear?

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In ten minutes Fred Meyer’s in downtown The Dalles will close its doors from 10 – 10:45 a.m. to allow its employees in The Dalles to experience the 2017 Eclipse.

I’m watching the shadows made by the tree I’m sitting under. They’ve moved and expanded, but still I think it’s just a result of the sun rising higher in the sky. Perhaps ….

9:45 a.m. and another small plane passes overhead; they must be charters to the eclipse. Two Common ravens fly twenty feet above me. A lot of bird activity today! Both donkeys have moved off, and are thirty or so feet away. They have paused grazing and raise their heads. It is cooler. Another small plane passes overhead. 9:59 a.m. and Lorie’s dogs are barking on the next farm. Donkeys are too far away now for me to see what they are doing. 10:08 another small plane. Light is more flat. 10:10 birds continue singing as normal, but the light is flat and odd. I’m standing along the barbed wire fence line – the highest point of Mule Springs Farm. The dogs are beside me. It’s cool enough now to slip my bandana over my ears. Where is my fleece? Sepulcher light now —flat—despondent— and sluggish. My shadow is long and Skookum’s shadow makes him look like he’s on stilts. The eclipse is definitely happening now. But still birds act as normal. I think all this activity is normal.… Oh this strange dull, insipid light. I could be entering a portal to another universe. It’s suddenly late, late afternoon and the light is plain eccentric. Cool too —so weird. Through the Eclipse glasses I can see the sun is 98 % obscured. I just heard a white- breasted nuthatch. A midnight blue Steller’s jay streaks in. Gypsy begins a long low growl. The donkeys look up with mouthfuls of dry grass, and begin moving toward me. They come right to the place where the dogs and I are standing. 10:22 a.m. The five of us huddle. Chippo tries to eat my Eclipse glasses. Well past weird to indescribable, and then the subtlest , slightest change, and just so barely more light begins to replace the tomb-like atmosphere of the ridge. And just like that — it’s already getting lighter. A burden has been lifted. The dogs go under the fence and explore another farmer’s land, and the donkeys move off and begin grazing again.

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Wow –the eclipse makes my ears look even longer!

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10:31 small planes begin returning, one by one overhead as we hike back down the ridge to the homestead. No racing enormous shadow moving across my world. The birds didn’t go silent. The crickets didn’t chirp, or did they? The end of the world as we know it didn’t come. But, everybody wanted to be together for those few seconds when the sun went dark, and we lost, if only for 45 – 65 seconds our sustaining light. Just remember if we really lost our light, we would all die.

Thanks for coming along on my 2017 Eclipse trip.

And below are some pictures that Bruce took at totality. What did you do for the Eclipse—where were you?

Diamond Ringfoks during eclipse

A Day Away: Two Donkeys and a Dog

Some images, thoughts, and observations from a 4.5 hour walk I took today with the donkeys and Skookum.IMG_3037A couple— mallards winging with the brisk wind fly past my head – flying so low they thread the pines — like a deadly weaving Cooper’s Hawk hot on the chase.

Predator and prey pass the same way.

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April’s roaring sharp wind penetrates like the red-tailed hawk’s scream.

The fuzzy new lupine—so many small hands reach toward the sun —emerged from the gnarled, gray decay of last year’s expression.

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Why is this so beautiful?

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How does one live fearlessly?

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The beauty of a Bumbleburr is to be able to change plans. We didn’t spend much time on the ridge. The fierce cold wind drove me off, and the donkeys found their favorite grass scarce up there. They cantered down the ridge path and waited for me at the crossroad.

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Four Days

Please select the audio link below to hear an audio version of “Four Days.”

 

Four days—me recovering– from surgery, and my spouse

taking care of the animals.

 

Day 1

The silent donkeys stare when he delivers their hay.

 

Skookum shuns him and the dog walk and skirts back to the house. Asking at the side door until I come drunkenly to let him in. Gingerly he hops onto the bed and falls heavily –pressed against me.

 

Rumbling cat curls my stomach. The three of us float in no-time.

 

Day 2

The donkeys trudge through deep snow and sub-freezing temperatures to the farmhouse. Arriving at the side door long ears point the door handle and as patiently wait for me to come and push snow with them.

And wait.

Hope expired they turn away and go out to clip branches and pluck shriveled rose hips above the snowy mantle.

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Day 3

Chippo wheezes and squeaks when Bruce enters the stall bringing food. I learn later “something must be wrong with that donkey.”

But, no, I know

what has really happened is the man has earned his gift–a greeting in donkey-talk.

 

Day 4

Restless.

Face mask, hat, gloves, and a bulky down coat I venture outside to feed my pigeons. My throat is so sore, I cannot ring “woo-hoo” as I always do. The birds look sideways: fluff their feathers: shift foot to foot. Plink, splat, and kerplunk whole corn, peas, and seeds.

 

Still, even the tame bronze beauty doesn’t know me; none of the pigeons will come.

 

Feeling a little sad by what’s so quickly lost, I shut the loft door and climb into the Ranger, start the roar, eager for home and my bed

once more.

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Sher’s Flying Oriental Roller pigeons.
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Pigeon Monster

 

Dream the Rooster

Please select the audio link below to hear an audio version of “Dream the Rooster.”

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“Rooster crowing” by Taken byfir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au

 

I hear my far neighbor’s rooster crowing when I tramp out to feed the birds in the morning. On a day like today when it’s icy and snow layers the ground, the cock’s crow carries like a siren over the prairie and sounds so close, the big boy could be strutting underfoot and weaving around me.

 

I’ve been listening to this rooster each morning and off and on throughout the day for about a year. I have never seen the bird, and I can only guess which farm he lives on.

 

I want a rooster too; I wish to hear my own bird marking his time, and to see my dandy strutting and hurrying the hens as males so well do.

 

On any given day a rooster passes through my mind. Recently I conjured a rather small fellow sporting black and white feather-leggings and a mop hat covering his comb. Some varieties of chickens do resemble this delightful two-tone fop! Not all roosters have the striking red comb that stands high on their head. My imagined paramour is probably better at parading, posturing, and displaying than actually mating though.

 

Another rooster I daydream about is a living sunset that never goes down. A great red comb and wattles herald his rich mellifluous voice spreading golden light across the farm. His feathers are graduated in varying tones of orange and brown, and he has a glossy black tail. He’s bold and utterly bewitching, and probably the one who– when he reaches adulthood– will have to have his head cut off because he has become too aggressive.

 

But, the sage whispers, isn’t it enough, my friend, to hear your neighbor’s cock’s crow? To hear its charming accord again and again as the sound reminds you of tall grasses thrusting above deep snow. The cock’s crow and the land. Remember last week when you took your walk; you heard the cock-a-doodle-doo in the distance, and you looked down to see wild turkey tracks in ice. The turkeys were on their way to stands of white oaks, where their dinosaur-feet would swipe back snow and wet leaves so the odd-shaped birds could search for fallen acorns. The rooster crowed again, and you noticed an elk track traversing the turkey prints back and forth, back and forth– braiding the turkeys’ trail.

 

Isn’t it enough to dream the rooster?

 

(Captions for each photo will be revealed when you roll cursor over  image.)

 

Anna’s Hummingbird and First Ice Storm

The first ice storm of the season brings an inch or two of cold glass wrapping around every exposed surface making road travel and walking conditions treacherous to impossible. And the birds have a hard time reaching food as they struggle to remove seeds encased in ice.

This morning's ice drip.
This morning’s ice drip.

 

At first light I strap on my Alaskan ice cleats, spin the lids on the birdseed bins, plunge the plastic scoop into the dry, slippery bits, and pour millet, nyjer, peanuts, and sunflower chips onto four platform feeders hanging in the Elderberry shrub. The Stellar’s Jays are first to arrive. I presume it’s the same pair that visits every day shortly after daybreak. They take as much seed as they can hold in their gular pouch, and then fly off, and I won’t see them again until the next morning.

Heavy duty Alaska cleats.

Medium duty cleats; I hike with these and muck the stall and paddock wearing the black boots with the big cleats.

 

Though ice-fog surrounds the farmhouse creating poor visibility, festive activity springs from the shrub outside the kitchen window as over one hundred songbirds pounce on the feed covering the platforms and on the ground.

 

But, it’s an Anna’s Hummingbird’s arrival that truly makes the show for me. This bird comes every morning after it has stirred from its torpor (a strategy hummingbirds use to slow their body processes by 95% to survive cold nights), and it drinks some warm nectar in a red feeder I’ve hung from a branch. The Anna’s stays around the feeder for thirty minutes and then zooms off, and I don’t see it again until just before dark when it returns and takes several long sips to fortify itself before the long-cold hours ahead.

Anna's Hummingbird resting on an Elderberry branch just shortly after daybreak.
Anna’s Hummingbird resting on an Elderberry branch just shortly after daybreak.
Anna's Hummingbird coming in for nectar after surviving the cold night.
Anna’s Hummingbird coming in for nectar after surviving the cold night.

 

I was worried that by keeping nectar available I might be preventing the hummer from migrating, but this is not the case according to the Seattle Audubon Society. The Anna’s Hummingbird in the Pacific Northwest often does not migrate, but chooses instead to overwinter. It survives by lapsing into torpor and also by having a diverse diet. Anna’s eat insects and spiders in addition to flower nectar. According to Gregory Green a wildlife ecologist who writes for BirdWatching Magazine, these wintering hummingbirds seize flying insects from the air, “steal captured insects from spider webs, and pluck trapped insects from tree sap.” Wow, they are quite clever, so it’s no wonder a smile rises when I see an Anna’s busily drinking nectar from my feeder, because I know this tiny creature has just survived another night where the temperature dropped below 30 degrees.

Author’s Note:

I bring my hummingbird feeder inside at night, and then put it back outside just after dawn. I found a link on the Seattle Audubon Society’s website  for heated hummingbird feeders — here is the link, if you are interested.  Hummers Heated Delight

Here is the link to both types of ice cleats —Medium duty Stabilicer cleats

Stabilicer Heavy Duty Traction Cleats

Which cleats should you get? It depends on what type of shoes or boots you will ear them with and also what you will be doing. if you are just going to the grocery store, then you may be able to make do with light duty cleats that pull on over loafers. But, if you are working around the yard , barn , or even walking to the mailbox, and it super icy– you need the orange or black cleats that you pull on  or strap onto boots. The orange cleats are probably best for most unless you work outside a lot like I do, and you want to hike in icy, snowy conditions.