Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Summer Cold Front

The sky darkened early.

It has been hot. I am not someone who likes heat. Truly I do not understand how so many love heat. I do not like sweat dripping, nor being restricted to air conditioned enclosures to avoid it.

The days have sizzled. The temperature hovered in the low 90s Fahrenheit (33 Celsius) all afternoon and into the evening. The humidity washed the blue out of the sky and made the air thick and wavy. Every day there was a forecast for possible thunderstorms. Every evening they arrived north of here or south of here, skirting to the east, or emerging and dissolving nearby in the west. Right here, nothing but humidity.

Last night the thunderstorms were inevitable. A cold front was coming. The weather maps showed masses of green, yellow, and boiling red storms coming closer and closer. The first waves skipped around here, as usual, but filled the air with growling thunder.

Finally we were overrun.

I stood in my breezeway watching the lightening bolts fly one after another, pink in the distance, gold closer, blue-white here. The thunder never stopped, deep rumbles, bone rattling booms, cracks that felt as if they would separate my mind from my body. The rain drove down in sheets, the sky flashed with blinding lightening, the thunder drummed unrelentingly.

Eventually the explosive storms drove all other thoughts out of my head. The storm consumed me and left me gasping.

Today, the air and garden are being washed clean by gentle rains and blessed coolness.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


I had a new dishwasher installed. The installer was a tiny man of Italian ancestry skinny and wiry with a Roman nose, far from young, a long faded navy tattoo on his arm. He was probably my height, and I probably outweigh him by a good 50 pounds.

In casual conversation he spoke of being in Okinawa when the decision was made to invade Japan in WWII, and how he and the other troops had no idea what was happening. And how he, at 18, thought a 23 year old pilot was an old man. I added up the years in my head. He must be about 77 now.

By himself he wrestled my old dishwasher out of it's hole onto hand-truck, down the couple of steps from kitchen to breezeway and out front. I knew better than to offer to do much more than hold the doors. He complained about how heavy the old models are and said he'd need to bring another guy by later to help load the machine into his van for removal.

When his back was turned I gave the machine a wiggle. Truly it was not very heavy, though perhaps heavier than the new on. I could probably lift the thing myself. So I said, carefully, "If you want, I THINK you and I together might be able to get it into the van"

Of course he refused.

A friend of mine later said that she was surprised I didn’t simply pop it into the van. “No” I said, “the man has his pride.”

I left after he was gone. On my return the old dishwasher was gone. My neighbor, who was cleaning his gutters, said that he had returned by himself and managed to haul it up into his van. My neighbor, who is a big guy, also made motions to offer to help, but quickly realized that help was not wanted, nor, in fact, truly needed.

Pride can be a problem. But this man takes pride in his work. He explained things I did not know about dishwashers and plumbing. One might think him not young meeting him, but not guess he was so old as 77. At this moment, his pride serves him well. Hopefully when he truly needs help, he will ask, and knowing his normal independence, people will jump in to assist.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Orange Julius

Julius was at the veterinary hospital for three days.

Every morning I woke up spontaneously not long after the clinic opened, and called to ask about him. I am a night person, so waking up that early is not common for me. Every morning I waited, heart in throat, expecting to hear he was dead. Every morning I heard that he was there, alive, no change. I would get up, get ready, have a cup of coffee and go see him. His blood work indicated that his kidney function was not good, but not so terrible as the veterinarian and I had feared. The severity of his condition did not make sense.

When I arrived he’d be curled up in a miserable ball the back corner of his cage, neck flexed down, dogs whining and barking in the room. I would spend an hour or more holding him in my lap, careful of the IVs he was hooked up to, fretting about his tremors, petting him until he worked his toes in pleasure. The vet techs would bustle in and out of the room, stop and smile down at me sitting cross-legged on the floor. Julius would have his head on my arm, toes working on my leg. “He’s so sweet” they’d say, not even knowing my normal, goofy, lively, happy, cat.

The vet and I discussed my taking him home. The vet thought he’d be better off with me from when they close the clinic at noon on Saturday through Monday morning.

On Saturday when I called in the morning, they said to come get him.

When I arrived, they took my carrier back, and returned with Julius upright and alert, if skeletally thin. Low potassium levels had been the source of his extreme distress. Potassium supplements had finally gotten up to enough where he could move normally.

So, Julius is back home. He is still on some potassium supplements, almost done with those, enalopril which helps his kidney function, and 1/4 tab of Pepcid AC (generic equivalent actually) to relieve the gastric distress caused by bad kidney function. Every other day I give him 100 cc of fluids (lactated Ringers) subcutaneously. This is the current standard of good care for Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) cats here and now, and it works very very well in most cases.

Julius is so much better! He is eating and drinking and hanging out with his cat friends, in particular his daughter Creaky, who adores him.

When I see him galloping about the house, or tossing toys high in the air, I will know he is entirely back to being himself. He may have a number of good years left.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


The air is drifting down from warm to cool but it is thick and still, so thick that one thinks of one’s breathing.



Once again I am outside, at my little table on my little patio. I have a glass of red wine, sipped, and a peach, not yet tasted. It is 71 degrees F (18.5 C) with 81 percent humidity. The fireflies’ display was short tonight as if the air weighted them down as well.



I turned in my grades yesterday. I did not celebrate though, as a beloved cat, Orange Julius, had become deathly ill. The vet appointment scheduled for today, seemed too far away as my poor boy shook and held tight to me, purring at the comfort of my arms in a world gone strange from some internal toxicity. He is probably dying, probably of kidney failure. He is only five. He is at the vets now, they are trying to turn him around, his chances are slim, but I had to give him that chance.



Cats’ kidneys are like our hearts. They are the organs prone to fail with age, or sometimes surprisingly young when one should be in the prime of life, expecting many years ahead. It is the way of most pets. They will usually die before us. And though that is hard on us, is it not easier for them? Unlike a person they do not have family and friends for care and support. When the owner dies before the pet, the pet is left in a world turned upside down, often unwanted, too often carted off to a shelter.



I have a binder called “Cats in Residence” with my cats' pictures and their papers, with rudimentary health records. Most importantly there are contacts, cat loving friends and breeders, so that my cats can be cared for should I go before them. I need to update it.



I wonder how poor Julius is, alone at the vets, in a small space. He is a social creature, adored by his daughter Creaky, well liked by most of my cats. Usually he is busy, playing tag, tossing toys in the air, or leaping up to a shoulder to be held and petted, purring, until he wiggles and squirms to get down and run around again. Creaky is hunting around a bit, missing him. Julius is probably lonely, if he is not too sick to notice. If he is still alive tomorrow, I will go visit him. If not, I will bring him home and dig a deep hole, and plant a new rose over him, to smell sweet and remind me of one sweet cat.



Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Two of my neighbors spent several hundred dollars on fireworks and I was invited over to watch the display. So, I took a break from grading to be neighborly and see the pride and joy of the two men. Quite illegal, but since one of them is a cop, little fear of the law. I wonder if the law is enforced at all here? If it is I would not be surprised to learn that it is enforced preferentially in the black neighborhoods, this being not the most enlightened of locations.

In any case it was a fairly nice display for home fireworks with some large, some loud, some wild spinning shrieking things. My favorites were some variations on Roman Candles that would shoot up colored balls that would then explode into sparkling showers or those brilliant white explosions that are so very loud. When those bright white flashing, forceful exploding, ones go in a rapid array it overwhelms the senses, leaving no room for anything, any thought, but the sound and vision.


My grades are due in 6 hours. Time to sleep.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Catch Up

I need to catch up. Due to the holiday tomorrow (Fourth of July) I have the grace of an extra day to get my grades done. My class had their last test on Friday. Typically in summer, the grades would be due by 10:00 the next Monday. This year I get until Tuesday. I am so accustomed to working weekends, due to my long training as a research scientist, that it did not occur to me until just now, that other people might think it onerous to be expected to work through a weekend as a matter of course.

In fact, I did no grading yesterday, sinking into yard work, then dinner and a long evening with margaritas and fireflies. Today I dallied in the morning, laying about for no good reason. I managed to pull my neck somehow in the process, and it has been sore all day as a result. I finally did a tiny bit of cleaning and headed back into the yard. It was warmer today and the humidity is rising so it was not so perfect as yesterday. Nonetheless, I watered the flowers and veggies, weeded the herb garden, planted a new tri-color sage, moved the French Tarragon, cut back the greedy mint, and put down bark mulch to reduce the weeding later. I also chopped back the huge attractive weed in the back of the herb garden. It grows well over 8 feet, and has huge ovate leaves. It is a lovely plant. At least it is lovely until it flowers it’s tiny purple flowers and goes to seed, producing burrs that stick every where then sprout giant plants in all kinds of awkward places.

When the fireflies lit up it became too dark to see. I came in, showered the mud off, looked at my unkempt house and shrugged. I will catch up with that later. I headed back to catch up on grading. My sore neck was not helping so I rubbed it down with the extra-strength golden Tiger Balm.

So, here I sit, pleasant warmth on my neck, swathed in scent redolent of cloves and menthol, stacks of grading in process. Some day, some day, maybe I will be all caught up.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


I love wireless. I am sitting out on my little patio, screen
dimmed, so as not to obstruct my view of the light of stars, planets, fireflies, and fireworks.

This makes typing hard as I cannot see the keyboard well and I am, perhaps, incapable of touch-typing. My dinner was an excellent marinated grilled steak with grilled vegetables. I make my steak marinade from Carlo Rossi Paisano wine, Worcestershire sauce, fresh ground black pepper, seasoned salt, sugar, and assorted other things, tonight a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, sometimes onion, sometimes concentrated frozen orange juice, often some liquid smoke, sometimes ground chili peppers. I also made my blue margaritas. I grilled, then sat at my tiny table on my small patio with candlelight and watched the twilight deepen. The fireflies lit shortly after sunset, near the ground and slowly moved up, finding their mates in the trees, and went dark as they consummated their little passions in the deepening night. Only a few lonely insects still flash, high in the air moving fast, looking for a mate.

A bat was flying overhead earlier, snatching its dinner from the air. I cannot hear this one. Perhaps it speaks at a higher pitch than those of the desert in Arizona, or perhaps my unusual high-end hearing has finally failed. I do not know. I heard the bats in the mountains in the Pacific Northwest as a teenager, and the ones in Scottsdale Arizona only a few years ago. In both cases I was the only human about who could hear them. This one was silent to my ears.

Earlier yet today I was mowing and putting the grass down as mulch in my vegetable garden. I stopped while doing so to pull yet another batch of thistles rising to 3 feet and threatening to flower. In the process I disturbed the hiding place of a baby rabbit. His instinct was to get undercover and freeze. Undercover was the recently pulled thistles, pulled from my older compost. So I went inside and grabbed my camera and harassed the poor little thing by photographing him. He and his relatives have forced me to put a rabbit fence around my vegetable garden, but they are appealing, and are welcome to my dandelions.

As it is the Fourth of July weekend, impatient people have started to set off their fireworks the night is full of bangs and booms and flashes. It is nothing like what it will be in two days, but still the noise is present near and far; Fireworks of this type are illegal here of course, as they are in out close neighboring state. But we have prominent fireworks manufacturers here, and many dealers. You can buy them easily at well advertised specialty stores. You just sign a document that states that you will take them out of state. It is all very foolish. The cop who lives two doors down buys and sets off many fireworks, and sometimes shoot off his gun unto the sky on the 4th and new years eve. Why have laws that so many break?

My charcoal still glows with a heart of red fire in the darkness. I roasted a couple of marshmallows in their heat. I am a patient marshmallow roaster. I like them golden brown and caramelized on the outside, liquid on the inside. No impatient burning for me. After the toasted marshmallows the flavor of my margarita was intensified, tart and limey.

I do not slow cook my steaks. I eat meat only rarely. I love salads and fruit and cheese. But I am in tune with my omnivorous biological nature. I love fish and chicken and red meat on occasion. I like my steaks thick, charred on the outside red in the middle, juicy and primal. I eat properly with steak knife and fork until the easily gotten meat is gone. Then, having no witnesses, I pick up the bones and tear remnants of flesh off with my teeth.... rich, tasty, MINE. If I were a cat I would growl.

Friday, July 01, 2005

A Break

I teach. I do many things, as do we all, but teaching is consuming. I am someone who is easily consumed by whatever I am doing. I am a monotasker by nature. But teaching is like consuming chocolate milkshakes. I want it, and at first it is so good. But budget cuts and my governments's low priority on education, prefering to give tax breaks than support our future, have caused my workload to go up substantially. So the one milkshake, desired and enjoyed, has become three or four that must be choked down in one sitting. I worry that my frustration with my workload, and the difficulties of doing it well under the pressure may have caused me to become a worse instructor, when I wish to be better.

Today I gave my last test in my intensive summer course. I have grading yet to do, but the year of eight classes and hundreds of students is effectively done. I now have over a month to try to put my house, my yard, my laboratory, my office, my grad students, back in order. I can breathe the summer air, not weighted by tests, homeworks, lectures, to write, grade, prepare. A break.

We have had an unusually hot June. Air thick and harsh, flowers and weeds growing fast, demanding water and care. Humidity turned the sky white, the sun a blazing eye, unrelenting. Thunderstorms did come occasionally, muttering and rumbling, flashing angrily in the heat, but not enough.

Now, On July 1st, the heat has broken. It will be for only a day or two. Monday is predicted to be back to 90 F (32 C) or higher. But tonight it is beautiful, and tomorrow will be gorgeous. The air tonight was warm and dry. The sky a rich blue overlayed by pink remnants of clouds, producing lavender. The spruce branches waved gently in a light breeze. My Nicotiana is blooming. It reseeded itself wonderfully surviving the snows and ice of winter. Growing fast in the heat it is opening its white flowers on lanky stalks, scenting the evening air with sugar and spice. Tomorrow I will garden, all day perhaps. Move some of the Nicotiana to the back herb garden, plant some potted plants that have been languishing, put down compost and mulch, weed, mow, edge, and maybe in the evening, sit on the back patio with a glass of wine or a margerita, and watch the fireflies winking gold-green in the twilight. A break.