Welcome, readers and friends!
I can’t let May go past without expressing my gratitude to our men and women in the armed forces who lost their lives in the service of our country. Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead. God bless all of those brave citizens who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Our forest is teeming with life! Temperatures are soaring — well, soaring for this elevation — and the wild ones, large and small, are loving it. The calls of the birds are even more beautiful to me than the songs of my canary, Saffron, and precious because the season here is so short. I keep the windows open as much as possible when I’m indoors so I can listen to it.
Sometimes in the evening, we hear the sounds of coyotes in the distance. When that happens, our Australian Shepherds growl and the hair on their backs starts to quiver. I wonder if they’re getting into defense mode, or whether those yips call to some deep, primitive parts of their minds.
The cats, naturally, are a good deal more agitated when the coyotes begin their moon song. Any furry feline that has escaped my hyper-vigilance and remained outside usually comes right up on the deck when the distant yipping begins. I’m always waiting for the tardy kitty, and in true cat tradition, I pounce on the latecomer and immediately bundle him or her into my office.
I keep getting teased about being the world’s biggest worrywart, fussing over cats who are perfectly well able to take care of themselves by the simple act of climbing one of our numerous trees. My husband once pointed out in the most tactful voice possible that we have about one tree per square foot in the surrounding woods, and reminded me that all of our cats have demonstrated superior climbing skills. Okay. Fine. I’m a professional worrier when it comes to my cats. I want them safely locked in the house during the hours of darkness, so that when I hear coyotes I can enjoy the night calls without wondering if Anderson Feline is on their menu. I still grieve over Peppy, who went missing the day of my shoulder surgery last summer. I searched for her exhaustively, so I’m fairly certain that she met with a toothy end. Now nobody can convince me to allow my cats to remain outside at night.
Most of my cats know the drill and are pretty cooperative about coming. That’s most of them. You get one guess as to who, one evening last week, decided to play Deaf Cat and go exploring. At night. Alone. In the woods.
Well, at first, when I had everyone but Sissy rounded up (you knew it was her, right?), I just stood on the porch calling. After about five minutes of increasingly loud summonses, I came down the steps, marched across the lawn, and headed over near our deer feeding station to establish a command presence. There I was, in my gown and slippers, clutching my trusty flashlight and sounding like no night creature that ever inhabited a forest. “KittyKittyKitty!" I hollered over and over, punctuating these cries with "Sissy! Sissy with Sissy-tude! Where are you? Sissy!" For all the results this produced, I may as well have been reading the yellow pages out loud. I had a feeling that a lot of curious eyes were watching this remarkable human performance, but none were Sissy’s.
A sharp evening breeze was coming up. I couldn’t just stand there. I had to do something. Not for nothing is Sissy known as the Queen of Cinnamon Ridge. Did I really expect her to respond to a shouted summons? I must have been temporarily deranged. She would never abandon her queenly dignity to the point of obeying like one of our Aussies.
Unfortunately, this didn’t leave me with many alternatives. I could, of course, retire to the house and spend half the night patrolling at the windows to see if she’d returned to the deck. I could actually try to go to sleep knowing Sissy was outside. I could remain at my increasingly chilly post and hope she would decide to show up. Or I could launch a search. Accordingly, I aimed my flashlight beam into the woods and started hiking. The edges of my robe, fluttering in the breeze, snagged annoyingly on branches and rocks as I headed down the slope, dodging pine branches as I went. Between the full moon and my big flashlight, I could see pretty well, but nowhere did I see a little black-and-white cat.
By that time I was a good way down the hill and the house lights looked pretty small. When I glanced over my shoulder, I was really getting concerned. Every time I’d seen Sissy head out on an excursion she went down the ridge, not up, but what if, this time, she’d decided to go the other direction and I was heading further and further away from her? I stopped, indecisive. As I did, I heard the rustle of wings over my head. Probably an owl. Maybe even one of our little hooties who serenade the house at dusk. This was no time to think about Alfred Hitchcock films. I pulled my robe more tightly around me and yelled again for Sissy.
An instant later I heard a scuttling sound and saw a little white streak heading for me. I leaned down and snatched her up, gripping her tightly as best I could while still holding the flashlight. She listened without apparent remorse to my admonitions that she was a bad cat and had worried her Kitty Mommy, and she seemed fixated on something in the woods behind me. When this belatedly dawned on me, I turned around for a good look and scanned the area with my flashlight beam. I saw eyes! And the vague shape of a coyote in the brush. I realized then why Sissy hadn’t come when called. She’d been hiding in the manzanita and only showed herself when she knew I was close enough to protect her. Hello? Coyotes are very fast, and I could have done nothing but scream if one had leaped out to capture my cat.
I headed back up the hill, juggling Sissy and the flashlight and stepping over branches and rocks. The night was very quiet, except for the occasional crack of a twig or the rustle of a bush behind me. This was intensely annoying since I was trying to listen for a pursuing wild animal. Sissy put her little chin on my shoulder and stared at the forest behind me while I kept my gaze fixed on the house. Our Aussies were inside, eagerly anticipating their nightly run. Finally, I gained the steps to the back deck. At that point, the ungrateful Sissy jumped out of my arms and marched over to the office window. Then she looked over her shoulder at me and meowed to be let in. Her whole attitude said that she had intended to come home all the time, appreciated my help, belated as it might have been, and now she was hungry and would I please do something about it.
I did something about it, working my magic with the can opener and a tin of cat food. Sometimes I wonder just who is in charge of whom around here. As I mixed Sissy’s dinner, I decided it is time to start wearing my gun again when I leave the house. Yes, even in my nightgown. I’ve never shot an animal, but I’m a huge believer in the use of loud noises to frighten away predators. To that end, my hero stepped outside and fired off two rounds at a tree. We haven’t heard any coyotes since, but I think we need to repeat that performance once a week so they understand my cats and dogs are not on their menu. Sissy may think she was safely hidden in the brush, but in actuality, she was probably seconds away from being sniffed out and eaten.
I’ve taken to heart the suggestions from readers about growing zucchini, and I’m trying again this year. This time I bought the bush variety seeds, and they are poking their little heads up and spitting off their little seed capsules and stretching toward the sun. I am keeping them safely on the deck this year, and move their containers under cover when I have to leave the house. I remember the hailstorm last summer that flattened my Swiss chard and squashed every tomato I had.
Summer barbecues are in the works, and I’m planning to try out several of the fantastic recipes many of you have sent me. My son John and his girlfriend, Erin, are frequent dinner guests, and in July, my Kiwi son is coming with his wife and two boys. Outdoor cooking will be just the thing! Our Traeger turns meat into melt-in-the-mouth fare, and has converted a number of our friends who previously professed not to like barbecued food. What a great way to entertain while looking out over the mountains and the forest!
I’m recovering well from my shoulder surgery, having fun experimenting with nail designs, and am hard at work on my next book. For more information on that, check out my FRONT PAGE letter! Happy reading, and I’ll see you next month.