"an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pets (3)

So, to continue with the stories of the pets in my life....
I left Germany in October 1980 and headed for Melbourne, Australia. Luckily, I had found a partner who loved animals almost as much as I do, and soon enough, a little tabby kitten adopted us! Fritz came from the Lort Smith Animal Hospital in De Villiers Street, so he got a fancy name - "Fritz De Villiers". Fritz was a cute tabby, with a white tummy and four white paws. He grew into a magnificent cat, with a big tabby purrsonality! Fritz was up for anything - I could wrap him around my neck, carry him, he'd sit on my lap quite happily, I danced with him, and took silly photos of him. He wasn't a very domineering cat, welcoming new arrivals without much fuss. My mum loved him when they came to visit, and called him "Fritzl Schnitzel". We moved into a bigger flat with a balcony, and he enjoyed sleeping on an old chair in the sun. By that time he had been joined by Muesli, a dainty little black cat lady from the Cat Protection Society. Her fancy name was "Muesli of Greensborough". She and Fritz got on quite well, they were both kittens together. Muesli was very affectionate, and loved hiding under a blanket. All one saw was a small lump in the bed! Incidentally, there's a hill near Euroa which we refer to as Mount Muesli, because it looks like Muesli under a blanket! We eventually moved to Sunbury, into our first house, and were joined by a little ginger tom, Morris (of Kingston). Morris spent most of his kittenhood draped around my neck! Fritz and Muesli were quite accepting of the newcomer, and it was fun to see the three cats lines up in front of their respective food bowls. Morris disappeared when we first moved into the house, for about 3 days. We thought he had gotten lost and were very happy when he did turn up, meowing loudly and VERY hungry NOW! The three cats lived happily together for a while, and then one morning I found poor Fritz, run over in the street. I took him home, and we buried him in the garden. Morris was with us for about 10 years, then he became sick with kidney disease. Muesli was with us for 17 years. She was later joined by Silvester (The Brook Street Cat - more about him later). Another cat we adopted was (Sunshine) Gomez. Gomez (aka Smokey) lived at Sunshine Hospital while I worked there in the late 90s. He lived in the hospital gardens, and people fed him, with the catering staff looking after him quite well! He was a very friendly cat, looked like a Russion Blue, with dense blue-grey fur, fat chipmunk cheeks, and startling green eyes. Eventually, the hospital was renovated and Gomez lost his habitat. I offered to give him a home and he came with us to Gisborne, keeping Silvester company. The thing about Gomez was - he was a full tom, and the first trip he made with me was to the vet, for a little 'snip'! Well, almost overnight, his personality changed! Gone was the laid-back, relaxed, friendly cat, and here was a pouncing, playful, cat monster that swiped at you when you walked past and loved nothing more than rough play! We recognised his 'moods' eventually and stayed out of his way when he had that telltale gleam in his eye! Poor old Silvester would have rolled his eyes if he could! We don't know how old Gomez was when we adopted him, but he lived a good many years, outlasting Silvester. Now Muesli, Silvester, and Gomez are all buried in the left back paddock - and do you think the birds feed in that paddock? Nope! Not a one. I sometimes like to imagine the three cat ghosts making mischief together.
And now we just have the one cat, Mitzi (of Burwood), a black and white long haired domestic cat. She came to us from the RSPCA, and looked very much like Silvester, which is probably why Wayne picked her. Her personality was VERY different from Silvester's, however! She is a bit of a grumpy cat when not getting her way! She doesn't like being picked up, and never sat on my lap until just recently, when she started to realise it's not all that bad. It's only taken her 6 or 7 years to figure that out. She likes a pat though, and has a lovely purr. Mitzi always sits behind me on the chair, sticking her foot into my ear or cleaning my hair along with her fur! She's very sedentary and sleeps a lot; I guess she's getting quite old now. Wayne sometimes takes her out and sets her down in the paddock. And she sits, and sits....the cat that sat!
So, that's the story of our Aussie cats. Next time, Silvester's story.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Confusion reigns!

It's October - a month I usually look forward to here in Australia. Daylight saving starts, the days are getting longer, occasionally they're even getting warmer. Spring has sprung, the trees are putting on fresh green finery, fruit trees blossom, the birds look frisky, little rabbits appear in the paddock, and DH is out mowing grass. The passing of the seasons is reassuring and familiar.
This year, I'm feeling my northern roots a little more, probably because I just spent nearly a month in the northern hemisphere. I saw squirrels busy foraging for their winter stores, bears gorging themselves on salmon to bulk up for hibernation, elk fighting for their right to rule their harem for another year. The trees were starting too show their autumn finery, gentle rain nourished the rain forest and the air was crisp.
I tend to change my surroundings with the seasons; with scented candles and warm throw rugs in winter, and flowers from the garden in summer. At the same time, my quilts and soft furnishings change. The Christmas quilt and decorations give way to my summer quilt, and in October I would bring out a spring quilt, depicting pretty florals and cats in pastel colours. But this year, I'm in a muddle! I want to go all out celebrating the northern autumn, All Hallows Night, and Thanksgiving, with quilts in rich earth tones, orange, and Jack-O'lanterns! I want to see my orny turkey and pumpkin teapot on the dresser, and hang my little Halloween quilt. And I'd really like to make a turkey feast and celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving!
So I'll have to find a compromise between the southern and northern seasons. Why should that be a problem, since we do the same for Christmas in Oz every year?! I'm quite used to Santa at the beach in December, and Christmas Day in 40C heat...
Do you find your cultures sometimes warring inside you? I'm sure a peaceful solution will eventually emerge!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Encounters of the bear kind

The holiday is over, but of course the brain is still processing all the diverse experiences of our trip to Canada and Alaska last month, turning them into wonderful memories. How do I start to describe all the amazing things we've seen and done? The drive through the always beautiful Canadian Rockies, meeting some of the nicest people one could ever meet, the interesting but short visit to Seattle, the cruise to Alaska? Well, these were all highlights, but today I want to try to describe our stay at Knight Inlet, and hope to convey a sense of how special this place is.
The only way to get to Knight Inlet is by float plane (or helicopter, depending on the weather). On a dull morning, we waited for the weather to clear in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, and finally got the all clear, after being entertained by a couple of seals playing near the landing. I was lucky to get the co-pilot's seat - a cosy affair. The clouds dispersed somewhat, and the view of the inlet and it's islands was breathtaking from above! The Great Bear Rainforest stretches as far as the eye can see, and there is little sign of human encroachment. Twenty-five minutes later we land on the mirror-like waters of Glendale Cove.
Knight Inlet is a former logging camp, now converted into a very exclusive lodge with approximately 15 rooms to accommodate up to 30 guests. The lodge is a floating construction. The friendly and helpful staff take care of all the formalities and show us to our cedar-panelled room. "The Palace" houses three couples and a shared lounge with a cozy wood fired heater. Excellent wildlife art adorns the walls, and the floor-to-ceiling windows in the lounge look out on the water. We arrive just in time for lunch, beautifully prepared by the two resident chefs. The activities and fresh air give everybody a good appetite. And then of course, we have to go see the grizzlies - after all, that's why we were here!
In order to observe the bears, we first needed to dress in appropriate gear. This meant donning float jackets, gum boots, and plastic trousers, since we had to take a short boat trip across Glendale Cove. It pays to wear several layers of warm clothes, and a hat! Once we arrived on shore, a brief walk took us to an assortment of old buses, one of which we boarded for the short drive through the forest to the stands. The observation stands are located along a salmon spawning channel which is diverted from a creek. The salmon here are plentiful, a fact the bears have learned and remembered. Even before we get to the stand, we spot a mother bear and two cubs splashing in the creek! Everybody is thrilled and wants a good look at their first bears! Mother bear is very protective though, and shoos the cubs into the shrubbery, until the bus passes. Incidentally, the buses don't stop, in order not to disturb the bears unnecessarily. We come to a halt at the stand and climb the stairs to a secure, elevated platform from which to observe. And not much later, there comes the first bear! This is "Bear Central", where the animals pass through on their way to and from the spawning channel. They are VERY close, sometimes walking right underneath us, not even 2m away! We all hold our breath and all one hears is the clicking of camera shutters. The bears seem not at all disturbed by our presence, and I must remind myself occasionally that these guys are fast, wild, and dangerous. And absolutely adorable! Over the course of our stay, we probably see up to a dozen different animals. They amble about in the creek and channel, and have only to reach out and snare a juicy salmon, and they are very fast fish catchers! No wonder, with claws as long as my fingers! The staff know their bears, and have names for them. One bear in particular, Flo, is very recognisable because of her pale face, and she is a bit of a show-off, ambling around the stand and virtually doing somersaults for us! Two and a half hours of bear-watching fly by, and we have to head back to the lodge. Everybody is so excited! After appetisers, drinks and a yummy dinner, we all head off to our (very comfy!) beds, and dream of ursus arctos horribilis!
Over the next day and a half, we go watch bears again and again. It's like whale watching, you don't notice how the time goes by. At other times, we take a boat tour of the estuary, and see more wildlife - seals, mink,heron, bald eagles, geese, deer, otter, and a huge variety of birds. Our guide, John, loves the birds and tells us their names. We see bears, a mother and her cub, "Peanut", digging for food on the estuary flats. Kayaks and boats approach to view them, but these beasts only have one thought - food. They need to put on as much weight as possible before they hibernate. Other activities are a tracking walk, kayaking, marine cruises (whale watching), and releasing baby salmon, which are bred at the lodge. But we're just suckers for the bears and keep watching Flo and her companions catch fish!Certain spots of the spawning channels are deep, so that the salmon can get away from the bears, and we notice that there are huge numbers of fish in those spots, even though we are told that fish numbers are down considerably from last year.

It's a special privilege to be able to see these creatures in their natural habitat and learn more about them. The people at Knights are very responsible in their attitude towards the wildlife and environment, working towards making the experience a treasured memory for us and at the same time actively promoting good practice. Staying here certainly will be something I'll never forget!