Blue Coyote

I had this dream, you see.

I was inside the house and David stepped out onto our patio, with his hands outspread. He was warding off the coyotes, I realized. There they were, streaking through the draw just below us. Only they were blue. Blue like jays.

The coyotes have become an odd subconscious symbol for me. I love to see them, in all their wild and beautiful glory. I’m also afraid of them. Not for myself, but for the cats. One day – the day of this photo, actually – one had a fresh-caught bunny dangling from its mouth. The coyote happily tossed the dead rabbit about. And I pictured Isabel in its place.

I can’t deny Isabel and Teddy the joy that going out into the sun gives them. And yet I fret about them being unsafe. It’s the eternal push/pull of suffocating what we love by keeping it safe.

And yes, I know I’ve written about this before. I said it’s become a major symbol for me.

The blue coyotes, though – they were different. Both more fantastic and more dangerous. How David could hold them off, I don’t know. I’m just grateful he could.

Perhaps that’s my valentine today, to David, the man who keeps us safe from the Blue Coyotes.

(Thanks to the amazing and fabulous Tawna Fenske for saving my whiny behind and helping with with this pic. All hail Queen Tawna!)

Tao of Kitty

Bougainvillea from Thanksgiving in Tucson. No need for autumnal tradition there.

Every day my cat Isabel waits for her chance to go outside. It’s her very favorite part of the day. She loves to stalk the birds, roll in the dirt sit in the sun. With these short days, she has to wait longer and longer to go out, because I won’t let her until the sun is high enough that there are unlikely to be coyotes hiding in the shadows.

Fifteen minutes ago, just after 7, three coyotes trotted by. Well after sunrise, but the shadows are still long. Isabel wanders into my office, mewing with charm, coaxing me to let her out.

Not yet.

Because it’s colder now, and sometimes blustery, she doesn’t stay out long. She’s spoilt with me working at home. Ten minutes after I let her out, she’s outside my office window, asking to come in. I don’t mind – it gets me out of my chair, after all. I’ve threatened to tweet every time I let her in and out, with cheerful encouragement to bring it on.

And they say Twitter has no real substance.

Every morning, though, Isabel seems to head out with supreme confidence and joy. Sometimes a cold gust will hit her and she’ll crouch down, flattening her ears. Other mornings are still and she’ll venture out with tail high, but come in sooner to warm up.

I wonder what she understands of the seasons. Does she have a sense that we’re just heading into winter and that there will be a long cycle of cold before her hot summer days return? Perhaps every day is new and immediate for her. She could be expecting to walk into flowers and heat any day now.

It’s likely more that she has no expectations. If animals live in the moment, then things are what they are. Yet, I know she misses us when we’re gone and she remembers good hunting spots. I watch her making the rounds of places she’s caught mice and gophers in the past. From the moment the alarm goes off, she’s prancing around, excited to start her day. I believe she understands past and future.

Some people say you should never let cats outside at all. That if you never do, they can’t miss what they’ve never experienced. I’m not sure I believe this. The world is the natural habitat for all of us. We retreat to shelter, for warmth, for safety, but that’s not where any of us belongs, cloistered for our entire lives.

So, I wait for the sun to get bright enough – not yet, and it’s almost eight now – and I watch her go embrace the world for what it is.

I try to do the same.

Scaredy Cat

Something frightened Isabel last night.

It was one of those nights anyway, when all the animals are on the move, inexplicably to humans. I could hazard guesses why. We had a good rain the night before, for the first time in quite a while. The rain brought welcome relief, dampening the dust and refreshing all the grasses and shrubs that had been curing for days and days in the relentless dry breezes. Not unlike a convection oven. Makes for pleasant weather for people, not so great for the natural world. Also, we’re at the new moon, so the night was dark and cool.

We noticed the animal activity in the evening. On our walk, we saw a young bull snake lying in the road, soaking up the heat. We gently chased it off the road, so it wouldn’t get run over by the people zooming home from work. Then, walking back up a different road, on the other side of the greenbelt, we saw an identical bull snake, also lying in the road. When a nest of snakes hatches, the young tend to radiate out in all directions, scattering to maximize survival of at least a few. We coaxed that one off the road also. Finally, we saw a Jerusalem cricket on the blacktop path. If you’ve never seen one, they’re seriously funky. I didn’t have my camera, but here’s a pic from That’s about the size of my palm, by the way.

Bizarre creature, no?

The evening passed without further incident, until I woke sometime around three in the morning to an odd scrabbling sound. I thought the kitties had brought a mouse in from the garage, via the cat door. It was a lot of loud scrabbling and I realized Teddy was curled up next to me on the bed, so I finally got up to investigate. But no, Isabel was sound asleep on the back of the chair in the living room. Following the sounds, I discovered that the dog, Zip, had trapped himself in my shower, where he goes when he’s frightened. By “trapped” I mean that he was behind the shower curtain, circling in an endless frenzy. Fortunately I had the power to sweep aside the silk curtain and free him.

Not always the brightest dog.

I get back in bed and may have fallen asleep. David and I both heard coyotes howling, which isn’t unusual. Then Isabel leapt on the bed, which isn’t unusual either, except that she wouldn’t lay down and vibrated with tension. She leapt off again. I heard her throwing up and figured her for hairballs. She jumped on the bed again, acting frantic and had some moisture on her, then dashed off again.

Half asleep – by now it’s four in the morning – I get visions of Isabel being ill and puking up blood. I finally get up again and search the house for her. I find where she threw up a bunch of water. No hairballs in sight. I finally find her in my bathroom (clearly the place to be last night), standing on her hind legs on my sink counter with her head under the little half-curtain that screens the window. When she looks at me, her pupils are so dilated the black swallows up all the color in her eyes.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

So I sat on the floor and she crawled onto my lap finally, curled up and purring. She settled somewhat, though the nictating membrane was covering her eyes to protect them from the bathroom light, since her pupils were still so dilated.

My best guess is she saw a pack of coyotes. She’s seen one at a time before. We know because we’ve taken photos of them on the porch. I love the one on top because I think it captures him throwing his head back to howl. And it reminds me of that scene from Jacob’s Ladder (which I know is a really old movie now, but it freaked me out at the time). Here’s a more clear shot of him.

Isabel finally settled down. We all went back to sleep, though David and I are a bit groggy this morning. I’m actually contemplating driving into town for a Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte. Probably a 45-minute round-trip. How desperate am I? Hmm…

Frankly, though I hated to see her so frightened, I’m not sorry that Isabel got a scare. She needs to be afraid of the predators. She tends to think she is a predator and forgets she can be prey, too.

Sometimes a little fear can be educational.

The Body Gift

I worked on the novel all weekend.

And it was good.

All day Saturday we sat under the grape arbor. I wrote, David worked on a project for his herb class and Isabel hunted a packrat through the grape vines.

All day, she hunted this rat. At one point, it came crashing through the leaves, hit the ground and dashed over to the massive climbing hydrangea to hide. That was a dramatic moment though. For the most part, her project was as quiet as ours: lots of stalking. The occasional creeping over the vines and wires, pink jellybean toes wrapping for purchase.

She sat in the sun on the adobe wall for so long she had to retreat to our shade and lie there, panting.

And I’m nearly done. I think I have about 25 pages to go. It’s been slow-writing as I tie in each plot thread. Much like the beginning of the book, the ending has seemed to require that I immerse. I only wrote about 4,000 words over the weekend, but I was in it for hours all day Saturday and Sunday. When I started back in February, I did the same thing: low wordcount, lots of noodling.

I’m excited to see it come together like this, seeing moments from early in the story bear fruit.

I’ve decided on a working title: The Body Gift. The ending is confirming that choice, with all kinds of resonance. Of course, I don’t delude myself that the title will make it all the way through publication, but I’m happy with it for pitching and querying.

But now: to finish.


This is Isabel outside my office window, watching the Bewick’s wren nest.

I originally thought it was a house wren, but the song and behavior has me now convinced that it’s a Bewick’s wren. Apparently they’re easily confused. And, sadly, the house wrens are driving out the Bewick’s wrens, so much so that they’re pretty much gone from the eastern half of the country.

The males go around building several nests in cavities, like inside the cow skull on our front porch, and the female chooses her favorite. Our male worked away to build the nest and sings his heart out. But I’m not convinced he has found a mate, much less that there’s anything going on in that nest.

Isabel, however, is certain there is.

She spends her days watching that nest. With unwavering intensity. She never tires of it. It’s the same method she employs to catch mice or lizards. They hide and she sits and waits. For hours. Until they finally come out and she catches them.

Part of the reason felines sleep so much is because they’re such efficient hunters that they can. Among all predators, cats spend the least amount of time actively hunting. Part of this though, is that persistence. They never forget or lose interest. Isabel’s been watching that nest for two weeks now without much reward. If there ever are chicks, I’ll have to keep her inside, because she won’t rest until she gets them.

Writers talk about persistence all the time. Persistence to finish the book in the first place, to see it through the tough spots, in the face of ongoing rejection, to write the next book even as everyone apparently hates the one you’re trying to shop. People throw around phrases like “thick skin” and “hanging on to your dream” and “never give up,” which all sounds so grueling.

I wonder if it shouldn’t be more like a cat hunting. Work on it every day, never lose interest, always check the nest. For Isabel, watching the nest is just as fun as finding something in it.

For her, it’s not grueling. It’s just what she does.

Wistful Wisteria

A moment before this, an Isabel tail was sticking straight up through the iris blades, fluffed with furry excitement.

Alas, I missed the moment. Whatever she’d pounced on moved, or bit back, and she shot out of there like a bolt of grey lightning.

Fine cocktail hour entertainment.

And a lovely end to a lovely day. I worked my way back into Sterling. (Thanks to KAK for nattering with me about it.) We went for the first bike ride of the season, checked out the local garden place.

I bought a Wisteria vine.

Does this seem like not such a big deal?

It is. It truly is. In fact, it’s enough of a deal that I’ve apparently already blogged about it before. I’m always amused to find, after almost 1.5 years of blogging, when I’ve used a label before on a topic I thought I’d never mentioned. But there it is: Wisteria. And the post is even titled Wisteria Hysteria.

It’s interesting for me to read that post from May 28 last year. (Apologies if it isn’t interesting for you…) We ended up not moving to Canada. And even though I could have dragged all of my plants to Santa Fe, in the end we flat ran out of room, at 11 o’clock at night, in the moving truck. So I neither had a plant sale, nor gave them away – I left a bunch of them there in the sun room, for the new owners.

I wonder sometimes if they’ve taken care of them or if they all got kicked to the curb.

I’m not allowed to wax sentimental about my abandoned houseplants, however. The bougainvillea made the cut, but the hibiscus and orchid stayed behind. The orchid was in pretty dire shape anyway and people would give me these “are you completely nuts?” looks when I talked about how it could come back.

I get those looks a fair amount.

But, yesterday I bought and planted a wisteria vine, which I know will grow here, because I’ve seen them on other houses. One house we looked at shot straight to the top of my list because it came pre-wisteriaed.

Now I have one to nurse along. Funny how things work out.

The Great Backyard Bird and Coyote Watch

All the animals are out and about now.

Spring may not begin until March — which I quibbled about previously, so I won’t reiterate my arguments, much as I enjoy reiterating my favorite peeves — but the wildlife around Santa Fe is gearing up for warm weather.

Tuesday evening, as dusk fell, a couple of bunnies came out to hit up the game bird block out front. And a jumping mouse hopped by. Then, yesterday morning, I awoke to fog outside the window — and a coyote walking by. Last night, a bobcat came up on the porch to nose around. And sniff around the game bird block.

Predators following prey in the eternal cycle.

The flickers have been diligently hammering on the house. If you’ve never heard a woodpecker at work on your house, well it sounds like the roofing crew showed up again. Maybe just the finish crew. But you could swear someone’s out there pounding nails. If you look behind the suet feeder in this photo, you can see the fresh hole in the portal post that this selfsame bird drilled into it.

I assume that’s her, anyway. She refused to give her name.

Being a woman, I decided food was the answer. The gal at the local Wild Birds Unlimited was dubious.

“Are you sure they’re not looking to carve out a nest?”

“It’s about the size of a quarter,” I say. “If so, they’ve got a ways to go.”

I’d walked in and asked for the Woodpecker’s Friend. Which makes sense to me, but I apparently live in my own delusional world. I’m at peace with that. At any rate, the thing I thought I saw at Christmastime wasn’t what I thought it was and it wasn’t called that anyway. The upshot? I have to be my own woodpecker’s friend. So I got the basic suet frame and the recommended suet and made David install it all over the hole, so the flickers would eat the suet and not the portal.

Right, he thought I was nuts, too.

And for a while, all we got on there were the bushtits. Which turned out to be really neat because they hadn’t visited us other wise.

Then, a couple of days ago: the flickers found the suet. They’ve been happily cracking away on it — and no other part of the house — ever since. I know. I am totally vindicated. I *am* the Woodpecker’s Friend. One day all you people learn not to scoff.

The Great Backyard Bird Count starts on Saturday. No qualifications required to participate. This year, if you tweet, you can use the hashtag #gbbc to report bird sightings. Hey, it does NOT get more fun than that people!

Nobody seems to sponsor the Great Backyard Coyote Count. But we caught one on the night-vision camera last night. It’s actually an amusing sequence as he and the bunnies visit throughout the night. Tonight we’ll see if we can’t snap one of the bobcat and maybe I’ll post the whole sequence tomorrow.

Oh, in this photo? I’m pretty sure he’s looking at Isabel in the window.

She’s hiding in the laundry basket today.

Oral Surgery

This is actually a setting October crescent moon. Held by an unstable hand. Turned out kind of cool, actually. I took this after our first party in the new house, at which I drank a fair amount of wine. Hence the unsteady hand.

The serendipity of over-indulgence.

Yesterday was all about getting ready for the party. Which made a good break for me. No working on the book. No working on work. No blog post, even. No, yesterday was packed with buying food and booze and getting the house clean.

Which, apparently I hadn’t really cleaned since we moved in.

That doesn’t seem like such a big deal, except we’ve been here two months now. And that’s a little long to go. We needed some rebound time from having our house on the market for six months, show-ready all that time. But, that was plenty long enough.

So the mundane tasks demanded my attention and that was okay.

Except for the kitty medical emergency.

I was vaccuming away, only ten minutes behind my intended in-the-shower deadline, when David came in carrying Isabel. I thought he’d captured her before the party, so I nodded and smiled when he said something to me.

“She’s got a cholla burr in her mouth!” He said louder.

Oh. OH!

I turned off the vaccum cleanerand went over to him. Sure enough, there was a big cholla burr hanging off her lip. She was frothing and salivating and I quickly yanked it off.

These things are nasty – big and spiky. Every one of us has stepped on one now. They hurt like hell, but they come out fairly easily. Even Zip, who’s not that bright, has learned to yank them out of his paws with his front teeth and spit them out again.

But, though, the cholla burr came off Isabel’s lip quickly enough, she jumped out of David’s arms, still licking and frothing, and raced for the sanctuary of the bedroom.

“She’s got one inside her mouth, still.” David said.

So, we dug her out from under the bed. I held Isabel on her back on my lap, as I sat on the floor, back against the bed. From my angle, I could see the burr embedded in the roof of her mouth. David held her paws and I tried to grab the thing, but couldn’t get a grip. White fur was flying everywhere.

Meanwhile the guests are arriving in 45 minutes, I haven’t finished the vaccuming and I’m filthy from house-cleaning.

While David fetches the tweezers, I’m thinking about how we could put a note on the door while we take her to the vet, which may or may not be still open this late on a Friday afternoon. Isabel is alternately hissing and pitifully meowing.

I got closer to a grip with the tweezers, but everytime I touched it, Isabel would yank away in pain. So David got a beach towel — the big one we bought in Culebra with the multi-colored giant polka-dots on it. We wrapped her up in it, so only her little white furry face poked out.

This time when I pried open her mouth, we could hold the mummy-cat steady. I yanked that burr right out.

Isabel went to the closet to recover her composure, then slept the rest of the afternoon and evening.

I finished the vaccuming — including a redo of the bedroom — managed to clean-up and cute-up before the first guest arrived.

Fortuntately, no one was right on time.