Hard To Say Goodbye

A chipmunk perches on a rock with its tail sticking straight out behind it on the trail to Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

I grew up in the eastern part of the United States. In the deciduous forests there, eastern gray squirrels and eastern chipmunks are your frequent hiking partners. While the Northwest has many things to offer, one thing I miss is the squirrels and chipmunks. Not that we don’t have them here, just not in the numbers I’d prefer. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that even in parks as magnificent as the Tetons and Yellowstone, I’ll photograph just about every squirrel and chipmunk I come across — which is why no one likes to hike with me. And God help you if I see a newt.

The chipmunks in the Tetons and Yellowstone are the yellow-pine chipmunk, the Uinta chipmunk, and the least chipmunk, similar but different species to the eastern chipmunks of my youth and the Townsend’s chipmunks of my not-quite-youth.

Trials and Feats of Daring

Our cats Scout and Templeton sniff noses while in our backyard

Throughout history, many societies have made their young people endure trials and feats of daring to prove their readiness to be welcomed into society as adults. These feats could range from the fairly benign, such as swimming across a raging river full of hungry crocodiles with a hunk of meat strapped to your back, to the so-dangerous-it’s-almost-suicidal, such as giving Scout a bath.

Anthropologists have long debated where one such feat fits into this scale of bravery: getting Templeton to take his medicine. The debate knows no end chiefly because it all depends on who is giving the medicine.

If it’s a stranger to Templeton who’s giving the pills, we’re on the nearly-suicidal end of the scale, much like trying to hold Scout while small children are around.

If I’m giving Templeton his pills, however, we fall into the fairly benign category. Much like trimming Scout’s nails, there may be a lot of noise and movement but there’s no real danger.

The little one won’t strike out at me in anger, and the feat of daring becomes more a feat of patience and resilience with a dash of cleverness thrown in. You collect him in your arms and he knows what’s coming. He gives you a look that says “I love you but I’m not taking that pill!” I look back into his beautiful green eyes and answer “I love you and you WILL take this pill” and then it’s on.

Templeton’s defenses come in two main thrusts. His first defense is to keep the pill out of his mouth in the first place, which involves a lot of head turning, a jaw clamped down with all his might, lots of squirming, and flailing legs that try to knock the pill away.

We have a little device that shoots the pill down his throat which has helped immensely. However, this is where his second method of defense kicks in. After you’ve shot the pill a hundred times and missed, every so often you’ll use the force (thanks Obi-wan!) and the pill will find its target. However, Templeton immediately starts to work it back up, and it’s a stunning sight to see how quickly he can spit pills back up. If only there was a way to harness this power for the good of humanity.

Templeton added a new wrinkle to his defenses this last time. He had picked up an infection and needed a pill in the morning for over a week. Once I got the pill down his throat, he wouldn’t try and work it up. He’d just sit there and wait to be released. He’d meow a bit in protest but otherwise was calm and I figured my will had finally overcome his. Feeling victorious, I set him free and he bolted away. It slowly dawned on me that during his meows of protest he had kept his mouth closed the entire time.

He hadn’t swallowed the pill at all! He was going to run off and spit it out when I wasn’t looking! These pills start foaming fairly soon after they come into contact with saliva, however, so he couldn’t get them up very easily and it looked like he was foaming at the mouth.

So if you want to know how I spent each morning that week, you can envision a mighty struggle trying to get him to swallow the pill, then me chasing him around the house while a foamy white spittle is hanging down from his mouth. I’d eventually capture him and get all the foam back inside his mouth (kids, don’t try this at home) and then try and get him to eat since the medicine was supposed to be taken with food.

Templeton would protest of course and not eat anything, even though he was hungry. I know my little one won’t hold a grudge against me for long, though, so I’d just go upstairs and then come back down and he’d usually eat for me right away.

That cat is a little too clever for his own good.

A Mystery Solved

Our cat Scout lies listlessly at the top of my bookcase on a hot summer day

One unusual development this year is that Scout hasn’t wanted to be outside much during the supervised time the cats get in the backyard when I get home from work. She’s never loved the outdoors as much as Templeton, but she used to like to spend at least an hour or so outside. These days she’ll only spend a few minutes if she’ll even come out at all.

But then I noticed that she did want to come out once the sun set, and then she’d usually stay out until it got dark and I made both cats come inside. Tonight I suddenly realized what’s going on.

Scout’s a werekitten.

I’m on to you little one.


Our cat Scout lies listlessly at the top of my bookcase on a hot summer day

Portland was gripped with a record-breaking heat wave a couple of weeks ago. On Saturday I sweated it out in my office on the main floor. I figured the cats would stay in the coolest parts of the house, but they would often want to be near me and hang out in my office instead.

This picture of Scout is from that day, she was up on my bookcase and looking pretty pathetic. This wasn’t even her at her worst, I decided not to take the picture when her mouth was hanging open as she looked like she had passed on.

For the next few days, I took pity on the little ones and moved my laptop and LCD into my wife’s office in the basement, where it stays much cooler. The cats can’t quite understand why I don’t just control the weather like the old days, and my protests that I was never omnipotent and that the old house just had air conditioning fall on deaf ears.

Still, I have to admire their devotion to me that they’d suffer just to be near me.

Animals and Earthquakes

There was a small earthquake in Washington during the wee hours of the morning on Thursday that we felt here in Portland. I was lying in bed, nearly asleep, with Scout curled up on my chest. I sensed the earthquake coming and then a moment later the room shook for a few seconds and then was quiet again.

After the room had been shaking for a moment or two, Scout jumped off my chest and hid under the bed. Go ahead and save yourself little one, don’t worry about me, I’m sure I’ll be fine.

Given how startled Scout was, I thought I’d better check on Templeton. I had left him a few minutes earlier when he was zonked out next to me in my office chair. When I got down to my office, he was still zonked out in the chair. Templeton’s not one to let a simple thing like the earth shaking interfere with a good cat nap.

Categorized as Pets