Ah ha! Captured! That stray pen–twirling, whirling, edging ever closer its way towards me. And Paper? Well, that’s a given. I’m already sitting on top of a stack of papers. ’Tis my place (always) to sit atop her papers, especially when she’s writing, especially the papers she’s trying to use.
And besides, what use does she have of this paper without her favorite pen? Oh how she loves me.
Cat Sketches and Stretches
‘Tis September 8th, day after labor day weekend. Hot and muggy the likes of mid-summer—but the shift is palpable. Leaves are turning yellow, falling, trees shedding. Not dormant, and still, one hopes, far from dormant—for that would mean cold– freezing temps and dips below the temperate nights we’ve been having, all for which I’m not yet prepared.
September remains glorious. ‘Tis I who am not ready, which is, I suppose, why we’ve been given the reprieve of this transition. Movement forward yes, though lingering still the comfort and warmth of summer.
So today, heat lingers and sun shines brightly still. Massive thunder storms last night—thundering, booming, lightening striking, preparing the way. Signaling to all—birds, trees, plants, insects, critters, cats, flowers, shrubs, even us—that seasons shift. Our summer shifts. And fall? Already blowing through winds that chill, winds that bring change, winds sweeping away summer—and sun and warmth.
We are in that pause between joy and settling in; laughter and taking on serious tones; colors and the inevitable browning, drying up, and cloaking us all in the drab of winter.
Already, I miss summer. Already, I dread winter. It is hard not to think about falling into the abyss of winter’s gray days, though necessary to keep moving past the point of that dip where the fall is inevitable, the darkness everywhere, the mood lethargic, and so much of everything seeming hopeless ’til spring.
Oh my, I’m beginning to sound like Daddy Cat who lives outside in the gardens. He bemoans losing summer and spends far too much time stretched out on top of the warm bricks of our garden walls. Frankly, if you ask me, I think he reads far too much literature. Heavy reading. Long reading. Not the books with happy endings, the ones we can easily forget, the ones we might even feel compelled to put down and not finish.
Oh my, I do feel in need of a cat nap, for as hard as I try, I cannot seem to stop yawning. The sun streams brilliantly through my window, its warmth my comfort.
I look up and above to the picture Mom gifted me of my 11-year-old self, hand across the back of our Labrador Retriever’s shoulder, and Dusty (our rescued groundhog) pulling at his jaw. I was sitting, plaintive smile, faraway look in my eyes even then, blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, choppy bangs, knees tucked both under and sideways, on the top of the hill of our orchard.
And I fall back, am called back, where 88 acres of orchard defined all the summers of my childhood and young adolescence. Rich Haven and Hale Haven peaches—Alberta Cling peaches, peaches by the peck and by the pound, peaches in half-bushel baskets, Montmorency sour-pie cherries, Sweet Cherries, Bartlett Pears, Concord Grapes, Jonathan, Melrose, Red and Golden Delicious apples. Nectarines, Black Raspberries. My mind drifts. My tongue remembers.
Peach fuzz from picking sticky on my hands and arms, peaches bigger than my fists could hold, sweet, ripe peach juice dripping down my chin. The ’54 Ford tractor with the wagon hooked up, flatbed, empty crates out into the orchard and full crates of peaches coming back on that slow, bumpy ride from bush-hog rough-cut orchard grass clear up to the packing shed.
Dad driving the tractor, his lopsided smile beaming, my sister and I riding on each of the tractor-well wheels, our black lab up on the wagon along with all those crates of peaches that we had picked in the heat of late July and early August sun. The kind of heat that sinks into you in this part of southeastern Ohio. Humid heat. Overhead, brilliant noonday-sun heat. Heat that makes you thirsty—before-anything-else heat.
Grandpa bought that land, 100 acres at the top of Malta Hill, to start an orchard. After WWII. Money from his G.I. Bill. Planted an orchard 4 miles straight up that hill to get all those fruit trees close to the heat of the full Ohio sun. And far enough away from the Muskingum River valley where trees, townspeople, and a stronger chance of a killing frost could wipe out a full crop of peaches.
Memories of so far away and long ago, wispy—as if, almost, they didn’t happen in this lifetime, in my lifetime. And yet still the peaches cling, the orchard clings, a love for planting and growing. A heart for all things earth, sky, trees, plants, flowers, animals, that way of life from so long ago, my love still.
And so on this late August day, I am still who I always was. Perhaps a riper version of self, but still, at my core, that 11-year-old girl sitting atop that hill of our orchard. A bowl of white peaches today centers my table (though these peaches came from California).
And the box they came in? That box belongs to Most Beloved who relishes sitting in (and looking out from) a box clearly labeled “Peaches.”
“Oh yet to relish, to sleep, to bathe in the heat of the midday sun–”
–sighs the cat
Oh yet to languish, to sip, to savor a cup of catmint tea–”
–bemoans the cat
Listen for verbal sighs and dramatic monologues. See especially planned pauses. Watch for wistful longing and waxing poetic. Smile and nod as you listen to your cat’s woes.
Act 1, Scene 1: Bay Window in the Breakfast Room.
Most Beloved upon seeing a shadow and in her most dramatic voice:
“In the middle of a mid-summer’s heat, late July or early August or perhaps middle August or maybe just summer’s end, without significant rainfall—almost enough to feel the standard repertoire of feelings common this time of year. June has bloomed, the massive undertaking of mulching and weeding, planting and wanting to be outside in 75 degree-weather has faded, and a certain weariness sets in. All-out efforts, even down to the hiring of help in the gardens, have not delayed the setting in of what always seems too short a bloom season.
One month in full summer bloom, June through July, then the sudden drying up where not only flowers fade, but moods do too. A bittersweet longing for what can only ever be temporal, an ache for beauty and warmth year round, and the reality that late summer brings the heaviness of high humidity, temperatures too hot to be comfortable outside, and the dip of disappointment that no matter how fierce our efforts, no matter how much our devotion, colors fade, the blooming ends, and the browning decay of this too soon mid-summer still come.”
Most Beloved sighs to take a paws (or “pause” in lay terms)
Resurrection lilies revel us in their sudden vertical growth and striking pink blooms, a shade far more common in the spring here than during the mid-late summer months.
But where is my Beloved Catmint?
Where has my catmint gone?
Herbs, in full bloom, spill over the sides of their pots.
Daylilies, also in full bloom, burst in a sundry colors.
And so yes, Most Beloved, the leaves are beginning to drop–the 100-year-old Silver Maple is shedding some leaves; a few Elm tree leaves are sifting down; and the dwarf-mounding chokeberries have traded their green summer attire for crimson leaves and purple berries.
Look up at skies laced with love, and glance around to see flowers yet to bloom. Fall ushers in cooler nights and gentler days, though dearest one and forever Most Beloved, the temperature today is nearly 90 degrees.
And perhaps most importantly, Most Beloved?
Sunshine, glorious and warm, still radiates from the bluest of skies, willow-wisp clouds still drift carefree, and our many trees and shrubs still lift up their arms with joy.
I am Most Beloved, she who looks after all of us here at Gardens at Effingham. I have always enjoyed a cup of catmint tea, the company of good friends, and stories that delight and visit me regularly from my garden journals and notebooks. I invite you to join us for a good cup of tea and stories from the sketchbooks, notes, and heart of Gardens at Effingham.
The latitude and lay of the land lie flat. Like sky. Trees bare—whose limbs now ache for sun— stretch upward and skyward to find even they share this canvas of gray, monochromatic day. Reflections all this moody shade, nature lies ashen. Dormant yet still teeming with life, nature sleeps to a lullaby’s song. Somber. Etched. Temperatures dipping. Winter dropping.
Skies open wide, gray subsists on all strata, and moods stack visibly against an alabaster garden. A lull of sorts in the rigors and maintenance of Gardens at Effingham, days such as these require a hardiness of one’s soul.
The kittens, at 7 months now, flush beautifully with their full winter coats. Poofy and gorgeously striped, they frequent the food bowl together, an inherent pecking order amongst them, one often under the forsythia while the other one eats. At first this might seem like camaraderie of sorts, or siblings traveling in twos, but perhaps even more so for protection. The sky opens wide, a single, flat, gray slab against which any number of predators might conceal themselves, only to swoop down unexpectedly to feast on plump kittens. And the kittens, while sizable themselves, do not yet have what it takes to fend off hungry hawks.
Most Beloved sleeps too, though inside the big house and cozied fireside. She, too, knows to nestle close as late fall relinquishes its rich textures and vibrant hues, fades into nights colder with days more somber.
We all settle in—cats, gardens, we who tend both cats and gardens. The tea hybrid roses have been pruned back, the P.J.M. rhododendrons and forsythia hold buds that will open come spring, crabapple trees harbor bright red berries that will sustain our birds who stay throughout the winter months. Even our resident frog has ceased his ba-roomp, ba-roomp calls, for he, along with the koi, are hibernating in the pond. Color-drained flowers, long now since bloomed, dangle seed pods and bits of dried leaves to sustain our resident chipmunks, squirrels, birds, and an entire outdoor world that comes alive just when ours is going to sleep.
And so while all seems infinitely gray and now dormant, the gardens are actively preparing for a joyous spring. We have tucked in the gardens, but the gardens are not sleeping. They tend now to a life of their own, one visible above ground only in fleeting glimpses, though one as vibrant and busy as tending to our gardens will be come spring.
Scherzo. Forte. Crescendo without denouement. Succession of notes, days metered in the click-click of 4/4, key of A (for August heat), unstable and trilling, repetition the same and in measured heat, 90 degrees plus and even when not, humidity to sear the presto.
And then there’s moi. Ode to the joy of lounging here. Finishing a power nap and contemplating another. Stretching—stretching, sauntering off to nibble kibble, lap a bit of water, then curl up to watch the world through the grande windows of the music room.
Or at least my world here at Gardens at Effingham. The roses are in bloom again (I am partial to the hot cocoa tea rose hybrids and the Mr. Lincoln 7-foot tall deep red tea hybrid), butterflies flit by (I like the Tiger Butterflies), and Strat Cat has passed by at least thrice now—twice while strolling about the grounds and once, just to sit and stare in the window at me. He seems utterly captivated. Perhaps it’s my pink nose? The way I swish my tail? Maybe he can smell the salmon I had midday?
Perhaps he thinks I conduct the orchestration of all that we (ahem, they) do here. Since this morning a cacophony of metal and grinding, a hodgepodge of coming and going, and a collective disarray of sights, smells, and sounds. Andante and Allegro. I think I made them go away however, as all is quiet now and the truck, machines, and general disorderliness and discord has dissipated.
Resurrection Lilies sing songs of hope, chanting in time sweet scents divine.
And so Bravo and all that jazz. I am she who is Most Beloved, and from inside the music room, I gaze outward on a world that is all my charge. These gardens and the cats they keep. The masons here to repair our brick walls. The butterflies and hummingbirds, the song birds and the bluejays, the cardinals and the robins, the squirrels, chipmunks, even the koi in the pond.
All is a tempo. Save for rain. We could use rain. (Am I in charge of rain?)
Ever respectfully yours,
Oh my, Where does time go? Seems you’ve caught me napping. Just a quick bit of resting my eyes.
Really, I had all of the best intentions.
Herbs struck my fancy this morning (when I was up at the crack of dawn). Let’s see–we have Greek Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, Purple Basil, and Chocolate Mint that we brought in last fall. They’re on tray tables in our 3-season room, and we’ve put up “happy lights,” aka full spectrum lights, above them during this winter, their dormant season here in the midwest.
But really, I’d meant to write about all of the new herbs we’re dreaming about planting come spring.
Chives, “Allium schoenoprasum,” are perennials that can thrive here in our gardens. I don’t care for the strong smell of onion anything, be it red onions, yellow and white onions, scallions, shallots, ad infinitum ad nauseam for my sensitive cat tastes. But she-who-holds me uses them in her cooking. Note I said “her” cooking. Not mine. My tastes are strictly salmon and kibble.
Our focus here at Gardens at Effingham is all about growing and caring for our many flowers, trees, and shrubs that provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for our birds and insects. And I have to admit, I do like to chatter at the many birds when I watch them through the windows. I am, after all, an indoor cat (ah, the luxury of being tended to my every whim and need), but I get positively gleeful watching birds flit and flap, hovering and maneuvering through a veritable host of arial acrobatics. Delightful, if I do say so myself.
Chives are companion plants for tomatoes and carrots, (though not for peas and beans), though we don’t grow vegetables–yet. One never knows with she-who-holds me. She seems to love growing all things, great and small. But chives also repel Japanese beetles, which is seriously fantastic since we’ve got a rose garden 39 rose bushes strong.
And as if this weren’t enough to warrant planting chives, chives also repel aphids. Although I don’t know, she who-holds-me seems fond of the enormous ants that come to feast on aphids when our peonies bloom. For when the peonies split open, spilt flowers heavy on their stems, cascading papery flowers layers thick opening wide to the sun, it is the aphids who come first to the flowers.
The ants? They merely follow where aphids have already tread. Both ants and aphids seem integral to whatever balance of nature moves through the cycle of our peonies. They are both host to and hosted on, both reliant upon, dependent upon, a peony’s opening moment of joy, though both, in the offing, at the disposal of that who is next in line.
And so it is I’m both lost in thought and lost in the persistent feeling of that nagging ache of hunger in my tummy. The kibble bowl calls, and just for now, she-who-holds me can dream about what the future holds. My future is here now, in her arms as she carries me lovingly to my bowl. Supper’s on. All is well. And oh my, is that a yawn I feel coming on?
Days fall short now, time cutting across day’s light, night coming too fast—before supper, before work can be done, before we are ready.
Gardens have been put to sleep—by us, or by nature—and while inside we work by light, outside, this early darkness awakens late fall’s chill.
Against this vague, ambiguous drift of days between November and March, skies sketch a steady kind of gray.
A Cat Sleeps in Our Garden
Tigers crush where Lilies sleep. A cat sleeps in the gardens today. He’s tucked in and around himself right now, curled up on a large, flat stone between a rose bush and a forsythia bush. His markings flank and imitate this late fall day around him.
Leaves are mostly fallen from the black walnut trees behind him, the roses lie dormant and sad after an early heavy frost last week, the mulch, well withered and now covered by brown crunchy leaves, work together to provide just the right amount of camouflage for his heavy tiger-striped frame.
He is a large cat. Daddy cat, perhaps, of the feral cats in this area. A show cat with markings parallel and perfect. He is a traditional striped cat, though with tufted fur, tufted ears, and a tufted chest. I remember the first time I saw him sitting on the brick path leading up to the garden gates. Stunningly beautiful, striking in that he just sat for the longest time, square on his haunches, front paws tight and connected, dark ribbons of stripes at perfect intervals up his legs. And that face. A large, perfect stare, eyes wide open, unafraid, as if saying something, but what, exactly?
He seems tended to, a house cat let outside, an unneutered cat left free to roam where might he may. I’ve only seen him twice, this tomcat unafraid. Unlike the feral cats who run skittish and fast, this tiger lumbers up our long drive, sauntering past the Weigela, passing by the just-last-summer planted dwarf-mounding chokeberry bushes, brushing past the dwarf cameo flowering quince. His haunches define his fearlessness, his size alone big enough to take down another male cat foolish enough to enter his territory, his domain, these, our Gardens at Effingham.
November 17, 2019
Sunday, cold now, but beautiful and sunny today
I found a dead bird today, vertical descent and upside down in the suet round house feeder, the one under the awning and cornering the sweet bay magnolia against the house.
I found it quite by accident. Shock made me motionless, breath held, life suspended, my life suspended over the upending of this delicate bird.
How sad for such a strong one born with wings to fly, to die in such an unnatural position. Although really, what is a natural position in which to frame the arc of a bird’s death? Wings bear weight, and breadth, for only so long, flight inherent in the lift and swoosh upward, ascent gliding course and construct of all things its life.
And then this—paralyzed acrobatics belonging to predator birds, big birds —hawks, falcons, owls—on such a small slim body. Though not so slim, when by proportion, two suet cakes could squeeze the life out of the little bird.
Did it dip down to eat suet? Dip in through the caged openings, big enough for small birds but not large enough to let big birds come in? Where, fully centered, sweet suet cakes, plump with fat and berries, became the gulped joy of Carolina wrens, chickadees, a female downy woodpecker, and small finches.
Is this what happened? Perhaps the bird was sick? Starving? Just plain stuck? Did it reach so far down because the suet tasted sweeter near the bottom, lodged between that just right place and its own death?
Feral cats, hungry themselves, lie completely still— waiting, waiting, patient because to wait—and to pause, to appear motionless—means to eat. And in so these cats’ eating, these birds’ demise? Is death life? Is life death? Is there a difference?
I know only this still small shock, this harsh blunt of a horrible (hideous) truth—that nature runs wild. Wild against my intent to care for and maintain life in my gardens. Wild against my will. Wild without my permission.
And in an artful arc of my brush against this garden canvas, I find pain in color—and a hideous descent of all I intended to make divine. And so like bird, death in flight, upside down and strangled, I find a most loathsome urge, guttural choke my own throat, to cry out—how awful this is, how haunting this is, how I shan’t be able to sleep tonight.
But I cannot speak. Nor breathe. For in sacred gardens, this moment lingers, my profaned art, decried, desecrated, ruined.
A bird’s life ruined. And the slow sick rise that where placed my heart, my art depends on life without the descent, arc of color without the necessary flourish of denouement. In ache, my own, a small bird’s love stays still. My beloved then, and my beloved still.
Naps loom large on January days. Hours tap out a day’s rhythm counted only in number of naps. And baths. And regular breaks meant for nibbling snacks.
I live here year round at Gardens at Effingham, and not to brag, but I have been here longer than any other cat (ahem, yes Mr. Poof, that’s you). I make regular rounds to view the perimeters of my garden, but alas, only from the inside of my gardener’s home.
Yes, yes, our house is large, spacious, accommodating, but house rules dictate: indoors only for all cats. Or at least us (and yes, no exceptions Mr. Poof).
I regularly watch skinny stray cats stretch themselves long and low to wiggle under the heavy garden gates. Stray cats are not technically “allowed” into the back gardens, but sneaking into the gardens doesn’t count if the owners don’t find out. The bird feeders and winter gardens are equally as enticing for both songbirds and stray cats.
But that’s okay. I didn’t want to go outside anyway. Cold doesn’t look good on me. Best for now just to stretch, yawn, and tuck in ’til spring. Beauty looks best when rested.
Miss Purrfect (and you know it 😉