She Gazes Back

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At the old Polish gardener’s
There’s a young cat
A calico
Living half-wild
Under the potting shed
Where she was born

Her face is decorated
With daubs and smudges
And streaks of black
As if she were made up to be a clown
In some mysterious carnival

I gaze at her in wonder
She gazes back
With her clear golden eyes.
~Anne Porter “A Village Cat”

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photo by Nate Gibson

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photo by Nate Gibson

Our stub-tailed calico Bobbie came to live here eleven years ago when her physician owner needed to move out of the area and couldn’t take her along.  She arrived with a van full of cat furniture from her luxurious indoor house cat existence — a cat house, a cat tree, a cat bed, her own large chair and lots of toys.  I gently explained Bobbie would be living the life of an outdoor farm cat from here on, but her stuff was unloaded and after a tearful goodbye, her mom left.

Bobbie took one look around the farm and claimed it as hers, much to the chagrin of several long term resident farm cats and corgi dogs.  She has been the Queen here ever since, greeting any new visitors with royal demeanor and occasionally allowing a stroke of her colorful fur only if it is offered with proper respect and deference.

Her favorite person is our Japanese daughter-in-law, Tomomi, and Bobbie greets her affectionately during her summer visits — no one else is allowed such access to her Royal Highness.

Bobbie, in her uncanny wisdom, knows a quality person when she sees one.

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photo by Nate Gibson
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photo by Nate Gibson
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photo by Nate Gibson

Bobbie will frequently accompany us on walk-abouts on the farm – oh, excuse me, your Highness, I’ll correct myself — we and the corgis are allowed to accompany her on walk-abouts on the farm.

Just to make sure the corgis understand her ownership of all things, she will enter the dog pen while they are out doing chores with me and then remain until their return, striking terror in their little inferior canine brains as they try to decide whether to re-claim their territory and food bowls — or not. Until she decides it is time to elegantly stroll in a leisurely manner out of their pen, they are stymied with fear and refuse to reenter.

Bobbie has climbed every tree, explored every building including the roofs, and won’t sleep in the same place more than one night in a row.  No surrogate cat house, tree, chair or toys for this cat.

She is the Queen, after all, and when we are fixed under her golden eyed gaze, we aren’t about to forget:  we are her subjects and forever will be.

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photo by Nate Gibson

Our Eyes Locked…

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The weasel was stunned into stillness as he was emerging from beneath an enormous shaggy wild rose bush four feet away. I was stunned into stillness twisted backward on the tree trunk. Our eyes locked, and someone threw away the key.

Our look was as if two lovers, or deadly enemies, met unexpectedly on an overgrown path when each had been thinking of something else: a clearing blow to the gut. It was also a bright blow to the brain, or a sudden beating of brains, with all the charge and intimate grate of rubbed balloons. It emptied our lungs. It felled the forest, moved the fields, and drained the pond; the world dismantled and tumbled into that black hole of eyes. If you and I looked at each other that way, our skulls would split and drop to our shoulders. But we don’t. We keep our skulls. So.
~Annie Dillard from “Living Like Weasels”

I watch you.  And you me.  Our eyes locked and someone threw away the key.

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A Hot Day on the Farm

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These hot humid summer days have been barely tolerable for a temperate climate sissy pants like me.  I am melting even as I get up in the morning, and our house has been two degrees warmer (93 degrees) than the out of doors.

One morning as I drove the ten miles of country roads to get to work in town,  I was listening to the news on the car radio when I puzzled over why the radio station would be playing cat meows over the news.  I turned off the radio, and realized the meows didn’t go away.

As soon as I was able, I pulled into a parking lot and surveyed my car from back to front, looking under seats, opened the back, scratched my head.  Then the plaintive meowing started again—under the hood.  I struggled with the latch, lifted up the hood and a distressed bundle of kitten fur hurtled out at me, clinging all four little greasy paws to my shirt.  Unscathed except for greasy feet, this little two month old kitten had survived a 50 mile per hour ride for 20 minutes, including several turns and stops.  He immediately crawled up to my shoulder, settled in by my ear, and began to purr.  I contemplated showing up at a meeting at work with a kitten and grease marks all over me vs. heading back home with my newly portable neck warmer.  I opted to call in with the excuse “my cat hitchhiked to work with me this morning and is thumbing for a ride back home” and headed back down the road to take him back to the barn where he belongs.

At that point, my meeting at work was already over so I dawdled in the barn before heading back down the road.   I noticed the Haflinger horses had broken through our electric wire fencing into a more inviting adjacent field so I wandered out to check fence line.   The hot wire must have been shorting out somewhere in the pasture.  As I approached the fence, I heard numerous snaps and pops that I interpreted as hot wire shorting out in the dry grass and weeds, creating a potential fire hazard with the winds whipping up.  I could hear snaps all up and down the fenceline, but could not see sparks to lead me to the problem spot.

As I studied the wire, I heard a little “snap” and a tiny seed pod burst open in front of my eyes, scattering its contents very effectively on the ground below.  It was dried common vetch seed pods that were snapping and popping, not hot wire shorting out.  They were literally exploding all up and down the fenceline in a symphony of seed release.  Not a spark to be seen — at least not of the electrical variety — only botanical.

So I learned practical advice to be content on a hot day on the farm:

Remember to bang on my car hood before I start the ignition, cats do have nine lives, keep the hotwire hot to keep the horses where they belong,  and especially, vetch doesn’t start wildfires, but explodes wildly in its noisy reproductive cycle.  If vetch can find ecstasy on a hot day, so can we all.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Prepare for Joy: The Depth of Our Wounds

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The first time I saw him it was just a flash of gray ringed tail
disappearing into autumn night mist as I opened the back door
to pour kibble into the empty cat dish on the porch: another
stray cat among many who visit the farm. A few stay.

So he did, keeping a distance in the shadows under the trees,
a gray tabby with white nose and bib, serious yet skittish,
watching me as I moved about feeding dogs, cats, birds, horses,
creeping to the cat dish only when the others drifted away.

There was something in the way he held his head,
an oddly forward ear; a stilted swivel of the neck.
I startled him one day as he ate his fill at the dish. He ran,
the back of his head flashing red, scalp completely gone.

Not oozing, nor something new, but recent. A nearly mortal scar
from an encounter with coyote, or eagle or bobcat.
This cat thrived despite trauma and pain, tissue still raw, trying to heal.
He had chosen to live; life chose him.

My first thought was to trap him, to put him humanely to sleep
to end his suffering, in truth to end my distress at seeing him every day,
envisioning florid flesh even as he hunkered invisible in the shadowlands of the yard.
Yet the scar did not keep him from eating well or licking clean his pristine fur.

As much as I want to look away, to avoid confronting his mutilation,
I greet him from a distance, a nod to his maimed courage,
through wintry icy blasts and four foot snow, through spring rains and summer heat with flies,
his wounds unhealed, reminder of his inevitable fate.

I never will stroke that silky fur, or feel his burly purr, assuming he still knows how,
but will feed his daily fill, as he feeds my need to know:
a life so broken, each breath taken is sacred air,
the depth of wounds proof of how he bleeds.

 

…by his wounds you have been healed.
1Peter 2:24b

Present and in Awe

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Try walking around with a child who’s going,
“Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog!
Look at that burned-down house!
Look at that red sky”
And the child points and you look,
and you see, and you start going,
“Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge!
Look at that teeny little baby!
Look at the scary dark cloud!”

I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world –
present and in awe.

~Annie Lamott Bird by Bird

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Stroking the Cat

photo by Lea Gibson
photo by Lea Gibson

“Outside, the north wind,
coming and passing,
swelling and dying,
lifts the frozen sand drives it
a-rattle against the lidless windows
and we may
dear
sit stroking the cat stroking the cat
and smiling sleepily, prrrr.”
~William Carlos Williams

(This is for our daughter who is off to college,  whose cat Jose continues to look for her around the house as we are completely inadequate substitutes when it comes to kitty cuddling.)

Summer Afternoon at BriarCroft

Tony running in the lower field

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
― Henry James

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Front yard light and shadow under the walnut tree
the swing set my dad made when I was little, now perched on our farm

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.
~John Lubbock

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2012 Hay Storage

It will not always be summer; build barns.
~Hesiod

tree house in the walnut tree

front porch
Jose, who owns the front porch
Old buddies Dylan Thomas and Bobbie
Samwise Gamgee at 18 weeks
Thistle making more thistle
Gravenstein windfalls
a few of a million blackberries on the farm
silver plum tree

Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.
~ Harper Lee in Too Kill a Mockingbird


‘Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone.
Thomas More

poplar row

in the filbert grove

Baldwin apple tree

Bartlett pear tree
heavy cone crop

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
~F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby

milking barn window
from the field
old milk barn
barn lane

Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
~William Shakespeare

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BriarCroft in Winter