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

Background Check

Our cat Scout sits in a catnip patch

One of the things I don’t like about our backyard is that it isn’t a very photogenic place to photograph the cats. We have a wire fence around the yard which is functional yet looks terrible as a background in pictures.

We’ve made some small changes to the yard, mostly just temporary changes until we’re ready to make some major improvements. This shot of Scout comes as close to a nice background as I’ve yet found, with the catnip growing beside her, the purple flowers of the clematis in front of her, and the pink blossoms of the purple coneflower behind her.

She’s such a beautiful little creature, perhaps no one can look away from her golden eyes to check on the background anyway.

Cure for Insomnia

Our cat Templeton sleeps happily in the grass

I’ve been a night owl most of my life and have constant trouble adapting to the sleep schedule of an early-bird-gets-the-worm world. I’m insanely jealous of Templeton’s ability not only to almost sleep at will, but how he seems in perfect peace when doing it. I’m thinking of wallpapering my office with this picture, to help me on those nights when I need the master’s help in drifting off to dreamland.

Sacred Ground

Moss-covered trees on the Mill Hill Loop Trail at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5

My sacred ground isn’t a remarkable place. People hike past it without so much as a second glance. But from the first time I hiked the Mill Hill Loop Trail at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, there’s a spot on the trail that’s always stopped me in my tracks. After hiking through some open forest, there is a sudden, immediate transition from the sunlight of the open trail into the darkness of moss-draped firs. Little light makes its way past the canopy and the thick moss seems to dampen all sound.

This little section of moss and firs isn’t impressive for the size of the trees (toothpicks compared to the old growth and second growth giants elsewhere in the Northwest) nor for the size of the forest (it lasts just a short while before the trail enters more open forest). It’s a little pocket out of place compared to the surrounding woods at this refuge of reclaimed farmland. A throwback to another time and another place.

Stepping into this part of the forest almost always brings a smile to my face, brightens my mood, quickens my pace but then slows my steps, to look up, to breathe in, to listen, to be. I’ve seen a coyote slink off up a forested hill. Laughed at sliding hoofprints of deer where they must have slid coming down a muddy slope. Compared the size of the deer prints next to much larker elk prints. Further up the trail I’ve seen deer, elk, quail, wood ducks, although sasquatch has yet eluded me. But mostly I love this part of the forest not for what I see but for what I feel.

There’s only been one time in my life when this enchanted forest couldn’t lift a darkest mood, but that’s a story for another day. The picture above was taken on a rainy day in April. A little earlier on the trail I had been photographing my favorite creature in the Northwest, the rough-skinned newt, but that too is a story for another day.

Me Not Smart

This evening I went to one of my favorite spots, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge up in Washington. On my first trip around the auto tour, the yellow warning light lit up on my Civic’s dashboard, telling me I’d better get gas or else.

I figured it was a false alarm but didn’t want to risk it, so I took off for the nearest gas station. I pulled up to the pump, turned off the car, popped the gas tank door, and waited for them to come and fill up the car.

And waited.
And waited.
And waited.

And then it dawned on me, I was in Washington and would have to pump my own gas. Fortunately I hadn’t waited more than a minute or two, so hopefully I didn’t look like too much of a maroon.

Categorized as General