May 2nd, 2005 - 14:06:56
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|"Bengal Cat" courtesy and copyright 2002 by Andrew Malek of Envision Programming. You may download cat as screensaver.|
The Kelleys at the end of Fire Road now have their very own pair of visiting Canada geese. They have full time chickens and two domestic geese and the Siuslaw River meanders close by their house so I guess this isn't as unusual as it might seem. Lynn Kelley originally kept the two domestic geese fenced in, but they escaped and ran to the river.
I would see them paddling upstream and down as I was building fence for a neighbor. They finally started coming home to eat and I guess the two Canadians swiftly figured out that grain was liberally put out for the Kelley fowl. The Kelley goats wander amongst the geese and the visiting honkers don't mind them at all. Sometimes the wild ones will take off and fly to various fields nearby or to visit the colony of nesting geese at the pond at beginning of Fire Road. When they leave on their long dark wingspans, Lynn's domestic geese honk excitedly and run in circles flapping their atrophied wings until their wild cousins are out of sight.
The pair of Canadians are obviously about to nest. They think the Kelleys' real estate is outstanding habitat with fine dining twice a day and a dog that doesn't bother them but might discourage predators. Location, location, location. The other day, Lynn and Kevin discovered that they now have a pair of mallard ducks that got the word about Kelleys' Bend Aquatic Fowl Hostel. Soon there will be dozens of feathered puffballs following Mother Goose and Dame Duck around until late summer when it is time to fly away. We will see if they return next year.
A leopard lives in our house. Well, half a leopard anyway. Benton the Bengal is half domestic house cat and half Asian Leopard Cat--felis bengalensis. A meter long from the tip of his nose to the end of his striped spider monkey tail, Ben is a long, lithe cat, not far removed from a wild animal.
Bengals usually come with black markings on a burned honey background with reddish ears and white spots underneath. The soles of their paws are black and show white when the cat walks through wet grass. Sometimes they have rosette patterns or spots. Ben has short stripes with some spotting.
Sande had seen Bengal cats at one of her massage clients' house and decided we had to have one. She drove to Coos Bay one December day and adopted a "factory second" kitten from a rare Bengal cattery. His pedigree tied in perfectly to the Louisiana line in the Bengal Book borrowed from the clients who own several.
Augusta the Maine coon cat hissed at him and Max the six million dollar Manx wasn't happy to find a kitten in his house. Ben hid under the teak buffet and studied everybody with large yellow eyes. His head looked perfectly round with triangular ears like a first grader would cut out of construction paper and paste on a circle.
The Bengal breeder had told Sande that she had to neuter the kitten as she didn't want him breeding. No problem there. She also said that Bengals were inside cats and that Ben had to stay in the house. Sande paid lip service to that.
I built the kitten a sharpening post with a vertical 2 X 4 covered with cardboard and an old boot sock. Ben regarded it more as a climbing post and chose a ragged old chair to sharpen on that had been mauled by cats for a decade.
Aunt Gus, the coon cat, soon played with the new kitten and they would wrestle on the runner rug in the living room. She had her work cut out for her even when Ben was half her size and he continued to grow until he was half again bigger.
We are accustomed to tossing the other two cats outside for the day when leaving for town and assumed that we could do the same with Ben. We discovered that he had a serious reaction to damp cold weather and his lungs filled up with fluid and he nearly died.
After taking him to a specialist in Portland who admitted that he didn't know what was causing the problem, we put him on a regime of steroids and kept him inside when the weather was cold and damp. When spring came and the sun made the grass grow, Ben got to go out and explore his domain at the end of Fire Road. There was a huge jungle of scotch broom across the east fence at the time and he loved to melt into the stuff and disappear for the day until his stomach brought him home.
His turf is boundaried on the north by the Siuslaw River and the east by White Creek. He doesn't usually cross Fire Road to the south but will occasionally to lurk in the fir tree and scotch broom plantation there. He loves the three acre tree farm I planted between the old railroad right of way. It has a population of common voles which is his very own hunting preserve since Max the Manx got old and sticks close to his dish.
Since the broom across the east fence got cut and burned last winter, you can see Ben trotting with a purpose a hundred meters off as he checks the brush along White Creek for game. He must smell the huge beavers that come out of the little waterway to gnaw on the willow at night. Hard to tell what he thinks of that but he chattered excitedly in the window when a buck deer walked down the driveway a few feet on the other side of the glass. I think he seriously believed he could bring down the deer.
Ben knows that I am supposed to get up at 04:30 in the morning in order to trudge wearily off to the salt mines so that I can buy cat food. He uses his incredible leopard voice to ensure that I don't try to sleep in. He hasn't grasped the concept of weekends yet and usually goes back to bed after I'm on deck.
It is raining heavily now and I carry Ben out in the stuff briefly when he wails by the door to go out. It sounds sort of like he is saying: OUUUT! OUUUUUT! OUUUUUT! in his big yowly voice. A little rain will usually shut him up.
There is nothing happier than Ben on a warm summer day here at the end of Fire Road. He patrols the neighborhood and doubles by the house once in a while to see what is going on and leave a fresh vole on the door step, and then fades off into the grass, looking like a miniature cheetah on the Serengeti Plains. He will throw himself on the gravel driveway and rapidly flip, flop, flip, flop from one side to the other to demonstrate his content.
On the evening of March the 6th I quit biting my fingernails. I have mutilated my nails ever since I was a child. I don't recall giving it much conscious thought. It was surprisingly easy. I have quit drinking as well (15 years in April) and chewing tobacco and cee-gars so quitting a bad habit isn't really all that difficult once I focus. Saturday morning on the 12th, I was reading the front page of the Register-Guard when I turned to page A-7 to continue a story. I was reading the bottom of the page when I looked up at the obituaries above the fold.
A familiar face looked back at me. It had been 20 years since I had last seen her. More than a decade since we had talked on the phone. She was reported as having died on March 7th at 54 years of age. I didn't even know she and her husband had moved to DC. Dee didn't look well in the tiny black and white photo above the six inches of small print that gave the RD condensed version of her life. Her family chose not to reveal the cause of her death. She had been survived by husband, father, mother sister and brother.
She had e-mailed a letter to the editor at West By Northwest.org almost a year ago. It was directed at me rather than to me. I have no idea how she discovered my drivel at this website. I think she wanted to re establish communications but I wasn't having any. Perhaps I felt that there would be plenty of time to change my mind about it later. I was wrong. Dee was another horrible fingernail biter--at least when I knew her. Maybe she had quit the habit in later life. I find it extremely curious that I ceased this behavior at the time of her passing. Of all the years and decades I could have picked to tackle nail biting, it is more than a little odd that I chose that particular moment in the stream of life without really thinking about it.
The little obit column went on to say that there was no memorial service planned and that her body would be buried near Lewiston, Idaho. I found that odd as I know her family is from Eugene and I think her husband is, as well. I am planning to ride my new Triumph motorcycle to the northeast corner of Oregon this June, so I guess I will push on the short leg to Lewiston to pay my respects.
We had known each other since we were teenagers. The mortality of it all overwhelms me. I think I have her death understood and rationalized and filed away as a recent event that has no bearing on my life and then while doing something at home or the salt mines, my mind wanders and seizes some little nuance of her existence that I hadn't thought of in years and I become extremely sad.
I reason with myself that we all have to go sometime and the Norns cut some life lines shorter than others and that more than half a century is considered a long life in some parts of the world. Logic works to a degree in digging myself out the hole and I get back to where I feel almost normal again and then the process repeats itself. The hole will get shallower as time passes I guess.
Copyright © 2004 by Norm Maxwell
Norm Maxwell is a regular contributor to West By Northwest.org. Norm Maxwell received the 2004 Best of West By Northwest award for his article, The Fire of South Canyon: Remembering Storm King. Tens of thousands of readers have "voted" with their mouse by their selection of this story. Visit Norm Maxwell's other pieces about land use, firefighting and life in the country and more at West By Northwest.org.
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Norm's Notebook: New Bike and The Three Acre Wood
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Norm's Notebook: Dead Cars and the Six Million Dollar Manx
(Editor's note–Norm's "Dead Cars" story inspired a feature story in the Register Guard, "Heaps of trouble in the woods.")
A Homey Homage to the Homelite: The Stone Age of Powersawing
Take Two: Jackson Road
Norm's Notebook: Battling Broom
Norm's Notebook: A Last Look from the Big Rabbit
Norm's Notebook: From Forest to McMansion, How It Could Happen Here
Norm's Notebook: A Few Acres, a Few Chickens–Who Is Living on the Land Now
Remembering the 30 Mile Fire
Old Men and Fire
The Fire of South Canyon: Remembering Storm King
Wee-wee for BB
Norm's Notebook: The Story of the Spruce Tree, and Mosby Creek, a New Land Use Lot Adjustment
Mentoring Military Style
Three Dollar Hammer
Remember Fire Road
Home, Home on Fire Road and more.
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