Friday, October 04, 2019

oats and beans

This morning, I read an opinion piece in the NYT about the difficult task of deciding where the family pet should live following a divorce. It isn't meant to be a lighthearted piece, but since the other news of the day is always so grim, I thought it offered at least mild comic relief. With this type of story, I always enjoy reading the selected readers comments. More chuckles followed.

I'm no stranger to divorce nor to pets. I well remember that when our family broke up -- kids were off on their own, on the east coast, their dad moved to Chicago, I stayed in Madison, in an apartment that did not allow pets -- no one was in a good position to take on the care of the family dog. I placed him in foster care, with a woman who loved him to pieces. It was to be temporary, until I could get my housing situation in order, but after a year, it became clear that Ollie was better off with his adoring, stay-at-home foster mom than with the old working full-time and frequently traveling primary caregiver (me). Ollie lived out his last years being coddled and loved. That fateful Autumn of 14 years ago was full of compromises and acknowledgements of our shortcomings. I think we all navigated the mine strewn field of separation pretty well, ending up in a good place in the end. I'm sure Ollie would agree.

Afterwards, I vowed never to have pets again. (I also told myself I would not live with anyone again -- you see how that turned out!)

When Ed wheedled me into letting his cat to hang out with us in the farmhouse (it took many years), I knew that I acquiesced only because we were dealing with a geriatric pet that was very attached to Ed. That I really was not a cat person and would never be a cat person. That once this cat passed away, I would never again let a cat crawl over me on the couch or worse, at night, in our too small bed.

And now here we are, with 9.5 cats living at the farmette (though outdoors!), being fed by me in the mornings, by Ed in the evenings, growing at times friendlier, at other times still skittish, with winter fast approaching and memories still lingering of last January and February when the thermometer dipped to horrible temperatures of -20F (about -30C) for days on end.

Ed and I have reviewed all options: leave them as they are and hope for the best. (No!) Set up little igloos in the garage, with or without heating pads. (But what about predators? We had coyotes visiting frequently last winter! Indeed, we lost one of the cats living here!) Bring them into the heated sheep shed.

After many discussions and in imagining all possible consequences, we decided to launch a training program, whereby we would slowly introduce the herd to the sheep shed.

We were to start on October 1. We got off to a terrible beginning! Stop Sign (the Brunhilda of all cats!) showed up that first day of the month and as always, she made the rest of the cats feel jumpy and suspicious. Then there was the morning of the butchered rabbit. No one was hungry. I began to think that we were slated to set up cat igloos on a cold garage floor.

I prop the door open to go outside.  The air is especially nippy. As I step out, I feel that first slap of a prewinter wind. And now I am spinning again: do I really want to subject these cats to a season of frostbite? I look toward the garage: a handful is there, snuggled on a ratty old quilt.

It's now or never.

And so I coax. I rattle the dry food container. And I slowly inch my way toward the sheep shed.

The cats -- all but one who is missing for God knows what reason and the two babies -- inch stealthily after me. I open the door to the sheep shed wide. They look at me, sniff a little, back away. I open a can of wet food. Nope, they hang back.

Oh, alright, if you're going to be that stubborn about it! I pick up Dance and place her unceremoniously inside the shed.

She does not run away. She hangs at my feet as she always does, begging for a rub and a tickle.

Before long, all six cats are inside, exploring, eating, exploring. I go up to the garage and pick up the two babies and bring them in as well.

Eight cats, rubbing against me, sniffing the corners of this fascinating and warm space, eating the food I put out for them.

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After they have their fill, they all go out to stretch and do their stuff...

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And as far as I know, they go on to spend the rest of the day playing and resting in the barn.

It's a first step and I don't know if it will necessarily lead us to have nine cats happily trudging in and out of the sheep shed in the winter months, but I do feel happy at the thought that they may continue to live this semi-feral semi-domesticated life, with us providing the occasional assist and snuggle as the need arises.

I review all this with Ed, over breakfast (because he is in charge today and tomorrow, as I'm on my way to Chicago).

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And then I catch the bus to the big city to the south of us, to spend time with little Primrose, who is now 18 months old.

There is this song that keeps running through my head -- one that I used to play for my own wee ones when they were just leaving the toddler years behind. It's about oats and beans and farmers who plant and cultivate them. Maybe I'm too much of a sentimental grandma, but I keep thinking how much care we put into our kids, our loved ones, and still, we cannot really predict where they will end up. And how each time I visit Primrose (after not seeing her for a month or so), she has grown in fascinating new ways. All to be discovered, admired afresh!

Do you or I or anyone know how oats and beans and barley grow!

So, here's how this little bean has grown:

(I pick her up at her school: they were just about to set out on an outing to the playground!)


("Primrose, your cousin  and I got you this incredible cow from the cow show!")


Despite the seasonal chill, I take the little girl to an ice cream shop.


Timed release photo!


One more store. Then out again.


There is lots of playtime and lots of downtime and it is so wonderful to be with the girl as she moves from active play to a leisurely supper.

When Primrose finally falls asleep, her dad takes up the babysitting post and my daughter and I go to the newly refreshed Cancale Cafe. (It's like Brittany, only in Chicago...)


There is so much to catch up on!

It's late now. I'm sure the moon has come and gone, the stars have twinkled on and receded. Cats have returned for the night, cheepers are long asleep.

I'm in the city of course, but the tug from all that nature is ever-present, as if demanding a show of loyalty.

Good night city skies, good night fields of corn and soy. Good night oats and beans everywhere.