Everything is temporary. The seasons, and the years, come and go on our little farm in the Cascade foothills. Come December this year, we will have been here 18 years, and our lives and our farm have undergone many a change during that time. We’ve grown older, the seasons seem to pass more quickly each year. The old farmhouse was rebuilt, gardens have moved or been reconstructed. Various animal friends have come and gone, and Rick’s mother came to live with us. We took care of her until she died in December of 2015. The cycle of life, punctuated by changes. Yet it is the animals who wander through our lives, I find most intriguing. Friends for a short time, remembered for a lifetime. Wise old souls and teachers, comforters in hard times, playful little elvish creatures who help us see the lighter side of life. They teach us how to be better people. Their lives, and all the memories they leave behind after they depart, are all woven into the fabric of our own, becoming part of the legends and history of this place we call home. The post this quarter will be dedicated to animals I have known throughout my life, and will include a final farewell to our own Lucio cat, and to M & J’s cat Lulu, from their olive farm in Sicily. A little news from the farm will come at the end.
Rick named the cat for his deceased friend, Lucio Sorre, a former President of the Society of Wine Educators. Old Lucio cat had been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism at the end of December, and put on Methimazole. He seemed to be doing well on his medication, and was due for more blood work in only a few more days when on the morning on January 23rd, he crawled into his current favorite cardboard box, fell asleep and never woke up. I found him curled up and peaceful. He was 15 years and 7 months. Lucio was a big cat, with a personality to match. Throughout his life with us, he enjoyed zooming around the house, and jumping up on cabinets and high places in general. Interior decorating was one of his passions. One of his favorite pastimes was annoying Abby, the old Abyssinian. In turn, she never hesitated to try to get him into trouble. He will always be remembered for his loving, independent spirit, his dedication to his friend Marcus, and larger than life presence in our house. He left us the same way he came to us, on his own terms.
Our friend and fellow blogger Doug Thomas knows I only post four times a year now, and offered to put up a memorial to Lucio on his site right after Lucio died. Doug lost one of his Persian cat brothers to sudden unexplained death last year, and understood the shock we were going through. Doug’s very thoughtful memorial to Lucio can be found here. I’ve included a few more photos below.
Lulu – The Olive Farm, Sicily 2015? – 2021
It was a rough start to the year on many fronts. M. had written me on January 10th with the news that Lulu had died. Lulu was one of our foreign feline correspondents from the Sicilian Olive Farm Cats. “Our cat Lulu just died from a sudden onset of FIP the dry kind. It might have been lurking behind his teeth problem (stomatitis) but last week in the space of three days he stopped eating, ended up at the vet and died New Years Eve. He was with us six years and a companion to Lucky and J’s cuddle kitty in the afternoon and during evening TV. He was a chirpy little cat with his unique vocalizations when asking for food . RIP Lulu.”
For those readers unfamiliar with FIP (feline infectious peritonitis), here is a good article from Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine:
M & J have taken in and cared for many stray cats and dogs over their years in rural Sicily. Lulu was one cat who was lucky enough to find a home with them. Readers will hear about the Olive Farm from time to time. It is a working olive plantation in rural Sicily.
As for music, I will leave readers with this song by Dave Mallett, rural folk singer from Maine. For all of us who miss our loved ones and hope to see them again someday. May an old friend come to take you home, when it is time.
Unusual visitors, here and there
We have had the usual assortment of deer, skunks and the occasional rabbit or squirrel. Every skunk that wandered through was named “Stinklesby”, and they generally lived up to their name. The camera was set on telephoto for these fellows.
Being from New England, I had read about Nutria, but never seen one. New England winters were too cold for these animals, originally from South America and imported for the fur trade, to survive. We had muskrat and beaver back in Connecticut, and at one point I lived near a large pond and was able to observe both species. After we had been in Oregon for just about 12 years, one evening in November, 2015, I went out after dark to investigate the activities of a Black-tailed deer buck grazing on fallen fruit under an apple tree near the shed. The buck, who was probably the same one who demolished 10 blueberry bushes in the process of scraping his antlers on them a week earlier, trotted off as I neared the tree, but there came a pig-like grunting and snuffling from somewhere very close by. Startled and feeling like an encounter with whatever it was could have a bad ending, I looked around, but could see nothing, and the grunting creature sounded very displeased by my presence. A small greyish creature at ground level appeared out of nowhere, and charged at my leg. I quickly high-tailed it, and got the flashlight and camera, hoping to at least identify my would-be assailant. Although not the best photo, it was good enough to check the mug shot online and confirm my suspicions. Our visitor appeared to be a nutria, a young one, from what I could tell.
It turned out there were three youngsters. The biggest and most aggressive one I named Yosemite Sam. He would challenge me coming down the walkway, and I learned that if I stamped my feet and made noise back, he would spin around, walk a few steps and let me pass.
The three took up residence in the shed, and would leave as a group during the day, eating the grass and leaving my roses and other plants alone. I didn’t have to weed the rose bed all summer. If only the deer would think that way, we wouldn’t need deer fence. The three mowed parts of the lawn as well, moving as a set, side by side. Rick and I used to marvel at their machine-like efficiency. With all that grass, they passed copious scat, which became hard to avoid.
Yosemite Sam, Gidney and Cloyd eventually became used to me coming and going, but would dive for cover in the shed if anyone else came over. Being wild animals, I never trusted them, and kept a respectful distance. At dusk one evening, the utility pole light came on when Sam was grazing below. He stopped, and slowly looked up, contemplating the sudden change in illumination. Satisfied, he went back to eating.
Eventually they started gnawing at the inside of the shed, and making messes in there. It didn’t seem they were going to move along on their own. They had to go. I blocked off the shed entrance one day while the trio was out, and a neighbor helped trap them and move them to the wooded area of the property. The shed stayed blocked for a while, and I could see signs of them trying to get back in. Eventually they gave up, and stayed out back. Yosemite Sam was livid when he was caught, and set up a loud fussing. Nutria seem to know more cuss words than most sailors. A bag of apples was left for them after they were released with great caution. I saw Gidney a few times after that, and noted scat and patches of mowed grass for a couple of years. I found two skulls out back last year, complete with those long orange incisors. Foxes and coyotes wander through from time to time. I never knew what happened to the the three of them. They do not have a long life in the wild.
The Goat – I originally posted about this fellow in 2014, and have incorporated that part of my post from 2014 here. We encountered this very unusual animal during one of our travels up to Washington in 2005. Looking at the photos, I am noting my hair was not yet grey, and I looked a lot younger back then.
From our April 2014 post
Saddle up a trusty vehicle and go north up the Willamette Valley to Portland, Oregon. Turn east along the Columbia River, where the vegetation transitions from the lush greens, and lichen dripping Ent-like trees of home into much drier grasslands and sagebrush of land in the rainshadow of the Cascades. Sculpted by the Great Missoula Floods, the region bakes in summer and freezes hard in winter. From Route 84 on the Oregon side, the hillsides over in Washington appear to have a strange velvety texture, and look like giant tan-colored lion paws where they come down to meet the mighty Columbia as it rolls on by. Cross the river around Hermiston and head on up to the Tri-Cities area, or perhaps further on to Spokane and points east.
We were staying with a very gracious couple that put us up during the Tumbleweed Music Festival in Richland, Washington that particular weekend. The four of us were sitting on the front porch in late afternoon, enjoying good company and conversation, when we heard the sound of hooves coming up the driveway from the road below. Much to everyone’s surprise, a lone billy goat appeared. He appeared to be familiar with the place, like he owned it, coming right up onto the porch! Our hosts were perplexed, never having seen this goat before, and not knowing of any farms with such animals in the immediate area. His lower jaw appeared to be deformed, or had been broken at some point and healed in a strange position. The jaw, coupled with his wild-eyed goaty stare, gave our horned visitor a slightly demented look that was both alarming and endearing to behold. Being an intact male, he stank, adding the dimension of ripe male goat odor to his persona. He laid down by my feet, like a dog, joining the group as if he had stopped by for afternoon tea with friends. Not wanting to keep referring to our strange, stinky visitor as “The Goat”, I thought he should have a proper name for the evening. “Thelonious” came to mind, and it stuck. Strangely enough, the goat responded to it as if it were his own name. Our hosts’ full-grown Airedale Terrier was not pleased, however, at the goat’s intrusion onto his property, and rushed at Thelonious, barking furiously. Undeterred, the goat calmly leveled an evil-eye at his assailant, backed up a few steps, and gave the dog a swift ramming with his horns. This sent the Airedale packing behind his owner’s chair, whimpering curses from a safe position. Goat “1”, Airedale “0”, Thelonious settled back into a comfortable position and rejoined the party.
After a bit, our hosts took us on a tour of their property, thinking the uninvited horned guest might leave of his own accord. Instead, the goat joined us for the tour, sticking close to me. We all went in for dinner after the tour, leaving Thelonious to his own devices on the porch for the evening. Our mysterious visitor was gone by morning, disappearing into the night without a trace. Why he came to visit us, and where he came from will forever remain unknown. In mind’s eye, however, I picture his departure ending like a Twilight Zone episode:
“The day, with all it strange events, has ended. The house is now dark, the inhabitants sleeping. Outside, an unusual goat quietly scans the heavens, perhaps looking for a sign among the myriad stars that span the sky. A light breeze stirs the darkness, and a thick mist slowly creeps into the lower end of the driveway, down past the gate posts through which he had arrived earlier that day. Nostrils quivering, his ears turn in the direction of a voice. A voice calling from somewhere beyond sight, from somewhere beyond the writhing fog. Eager with anticipation, he rises, disappearing into the beckoning misty tendrils that await him. He has answered a call to return home. A call that could only have come from…the Twilight Zone.”
For those of you patient enough to have read down this far, I thank you. I have quietly noted the progress of spring and all manner of new life. A pair of killdeer have decided to attempt a nest in our gravel driveway again, and we have blocked it off from traffic. They are attempting to hatch four eggs.
And finally, crocus, one of those early harbingers of spring.
And a cloudbow, digitally enhanced here to make it easier to see.
I leave readers with an old Irish blessing. Until we meet again.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.